Bar Harbor’s Dottie Cooke recalls being disappointed at not being asked to drive her family to safety off-island. Later in the film, Cooke tears up at the memory of a schoolmate who perished in the fire. PHOTO COURTESY PETER LOGUE

The Great Fire of ’47 relived in film

ELLSWORTH — Most folks who have lived on Mount Desert Island for the past 70 years have a tale to tell of the Great Fire of ’47.

Even those who came on the scene 10 or even 20 years later often recall seeing the devastation it wreaked; how roads leading to and from Bar Harbor— now in glorious gold, orange and scarlet foliage— were once wastelands of charred tree stumps and blackened foundation stones.

Now, thanks to Southwest Harbor filmmaker Peter Logue, the Bar Harbor Historical Society and executive producer Kim Swan, who raised the funds, many of those memories and fire-related anecdotes have been gathered together in the fascinating and informative documentary “The Fire of ’47,” which will be shown at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 2, at The Grand in Ellsworth. The film premiered at Bar Harbor’s Criterion Theatre on Oct. 1.

In the film, more than 20 folks, of a certain age, related their fire-borne tales for Logue’s camera. Some were hair-raising, such as Bruce Cameron talking about being aboard a truck full of young men standing in the back of the pickup. Their firefighting efforts ended, and almost their lives, when they were pitched out onto a rocky embankment as the truck hurtled around a curve on the way to a new fire outbreak.

Or Pat Curtis’s childhood memory of the trees along the road exploding into flame as her family drove away. Some are even funny, such as Dottie Cooke’s recollection of being deeply disappointed when, as a youngster she didn’t get to drive her family to safety in the family Ford when her dad returned in the nick of time; or John Stewart recollecting his father’s remark when he heard his wife was getting changed before going down to the harbor to be evacuated.

“Where the hell does she think she’s going, to a party?”

And some are heartbreaking. After more than seven decades when the scars of the fire of ’47 have been transformed into a lush growth of young deciduous trees, the emotional scars linger.

Cooke still tears up when she remembers her schoolmate Helen Cormier, who died in a car accident on her way to safety.

Logue must have a very good behind-the-lens manner, as each of these storytellers seems completely at ease in front of the camera, relating their tales with a minimum of nervous fidgeting and a maximum of clear diction; a testament perhaps to a previous era of schooling?

Speaking of good diction, the stories are woven together with a well-crafted narrative apparently gleaned from news stories and journal accounts by the familiar, authoritative voice of Seal Harbor resident and professional voice actor Steve Zirnkilton.

While many of us may have heard stories like these before, and have probably seen some of the black-and-white photos of the fire and its aftermath in anniversary newspaper articles, few have seen the terrible images of the actual fire sweeping across the crest of McFarland Hill on its way to Somes Sound.

Logue has managed to find these moving picture clips and others, including some taken from the Trenton side of the bridge, showing the whole northern end of MDI lying under a pall of billowing smoke. He also enlisted Mike Perlman to shoot current day aerial footage of the fire’s path and Andrew Lynch for a pleasing original guitar score.

It all adds up to excellent piece of documentary filmmaking and an important addition to the archive of local history.

Those who missed the Criterion showing or want to see it again can at The Grand. For more info, call 667-9500 and visit

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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