Bowdoinham kicks off 250th anniversary celebration
Whether it’s hirsute visitors headed to or from a relaxing respite at smelt camps — or locals with better things to do than shave — men with facial hair are a common sight in Bowdoinham.
Rather than getting a hair across their — um, cheeks — the residents of Bowdoinham decided to celebrate fuzzy faces by incorporating an amateur beard and mustache contest into this weekend’s Ice and Smelt Festival, at which a series of celebrations to mark the town’s 250th anniversary will sprout.
The festival begins this evening with a reception for the Ice and Smelt exhibit from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Merrymeeting Arts Center, 9 Main St. Festivities will conclude with a dance at the town hall Saturday at 8 p.m.
For those too young to cultivate a goatee or Van Dyke, indoor activities such as children’s smelt camp construction with Legos and outdoor events such as a smelt fishing contest are planned for Saturday. The snow date is Sunday.
Lee Parker of the Merrymeeting Arts Center (MAC), sponsor of the festival, said arts center members began looking at how it could participate in the anniversary more than a year ago. They decided to host a winter festival loosely built on the concept of “Carnevale,” a pre-Lenten party with Mediterraneanregion roots dating back centuries.
The first weekend of February is a good time of year for a festival, a time when ice and smelt are what Bowdoinham is all about, Parker said.
The town’s 250th anniversary celebration will continue with events planned for almost every month, including a three-day Celebrate Bowdoinham extravaganza in September.
The MAC received a grant from the anniversary committee to help with the festival. As explained in the town’s January newsletter, the grant’s roots date to 1912, when William Kendall, a Bowdoinham mill owner and sheep farmer, came up with the idea to create an anniversary fund by raising donations.
A committee collected $555, which was put in five separate banks and became the town’s Century Fund, to remain untouched until the town’s 250th birthday. Today, the account totals approximately $67,000, which the anniversary committee is charged with using “appropriately for the good of the Bowdoinham and its citizens.”
As part of the Ice and Smelt Festival today and Saturday, Tessa Kingsley has organized the amateur beard contest, something the 250th Anniversary Committee decided to add to the lineup after learning that a beard contest was held at the town’s 200th anniversary bash on July 7, 1962.
Kingsley consulted with the World Beard and Mustache Championships website for inspiration.
The website lists stipulations for the contest, but the competition is meant to be very light-hearted and will be loose, Kingsley said.
Kingsley, Laurel Lopez and Peter Feeney will judge, and contestants need only present themselves in the Masonic Lodge between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., where judges will snap their photographs to use in the judging.
According to the contest rules poster, “Beards and mustaches will be judged within the following categories: Mustaches (natural, imperial, and freestyle); Partial Beards (natural goatee, musketeer, and freestyle sideburns); and Full Beards (natural, verdi, freestyle).
“Aids (styling products) may be used in all categories other than noted by ‘natural.’ Overall aesthetic will determine the winners.
“Prizes will be awarded to the winner of each category with a grand prize awarded to the judges’ favorite. Prizes will be awarded at 3 p.m.
“‘Don’t know your category? Don’t worry! Our beard experts will be on hand to help you,’ the rule states. ‘Don’t have a beard? Come try out our hand-painted ‘beards’ designed to complement the look of any child, woman and clean shaven gentleman.’”
Even if your beard doesn’t appear to fit in a category, should someone have phenomenal facial hair, Kingsley noted, a “judges’ favorite” prize will be awarded.
There is no entrance fee, and Parker said, “We are not excluding anybody.”
David Berry grew up in Bowdoinham and has lived there almost all of his life. His 1962 passport featured a photo of him with his first beard at age 22, “and I think I have my last beard on right now,” Berry joked Wednesday.
Berry was out of the country during the town’s 200th anniversary and didn’t get to compete in that contest. Unsure if he grew the beard solely for the contest all those years ago, he thinks it was more of a social statement in Bowdoinham.
Most men his age didn’t have beards in 1962, Berry said.
“I thought I’d try something different,” he said. “It was a little scruffy in those days, and it still is a little scruffy I guess you could say.”
He doesn’t remember anyone who had a beard in those days, other than those who grew them for the contest as an imitation of what men looked like 200 years before.
“I think it just became more fashionable, or popular” during the past 20 years, Berry said. “I think that’s worthy of a doctoral thesis, if someone could figure out the evolution of beard growing.”
When Berry arrived to teach English in Italy, where he lived for three years, he decided he should blend in and he shaved the beard.
Back home in 1965, he cultivated beards two or three times before shaving, but after 1976, he stopped shaving.
There are drawbacks, he said, but as other Bowdoinham bearded men also explained, the advantage is he doesn’t have to shave. It also “may hide the fact that I consider myself to have a weak chin,” Berry admitted.
On the downside, “I’ve also got a great dimple that I’m covering up,” he joked.
Berry expects to have his brother, Bruce, who also has a beard and serves as his “personal barber,” give him a trim, though “he doesn’t like to give me a big advantage in the looks department.”
Brant Miller also has a beard. Asked Tuesday if he is competing, Miller said, “I’m not competing, I’m winning.”
Miller has had his full beard and mustache for the last 40 years. He first grew one because “I was too lazy to shave. ... I guess it’s just been part of what I am.”
Another advantage is the beard covers up flaws, Miller said, and in the winter it helps keep him warm, especially “when you get a nice crust of ice all over it,” which holds the heat in.
He doesn’t know who he or his beard will be competing against Saturday, and regardless, “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
And even if the only prize was bragging rights, “That’s about all we’d need here in Bowdoinham, like the ice out contest. We have simple pleasures here,” Miller said.
Brent Zachau also has a beard, though he says his brother, Max, has a better one. Miller, he said, “has a great beard.”
Other than a short temporary position that prevented him from having a beard, Zachau, now 63, has always sported a beard as an adult, including “back when it was unfashionable in some circles to have a beard.”
“There are quite a lot of men in Bowdoinham who do have beards,” Zachau said, and he anticipates, “there will be quite a few of us who will go and participate,” in the contest.
Why does he wear a beard? No shaving. They are comfortable and save a lot of work, he notes, because, “add up the time in your life you save by not shaving and it’s equivalent to a two- or threeweek vacation every year.”
It’s not all easy living and comfort though.
“You’ve got to make sure you don’t leave any egg in it and stuff like that,” Berry said. “They don’t call it a soup strainer for nothing.”
Parker said any profits made during the festival support the Merrymeeting Arts Center, and 10 percent of the profits go back to the anniversary committee for the town’s 300th anniversary.
“We’d really like to see Bowdoinham become an event destination place,” Parker said. “There’s a lot of synergy that’s come out of this type of planning that’s really very energizing.”
For fliers or more information about the Ice and Smelt Festival, or other 250th Bowdoinham anniversary celebration events scheduled throughout the year, visit www.bowdoinham.com/newsice and-smelt-festival; or visit www.bowdoinham250.org.