Rockland Lobster Festival kicks off 70th year
ROCKLAND – Despite numerous Rockland Lobster Festival visitors already through the gates by noon, the line at the main entrance stretched along the sidewalk in two directions, Wednesday, August 2. On the northern side, the admission line wrapped around the corner to the entrance of the Park Street Grille, prompting newcomers to question whether they were even in the correct line.
As a special flashback to the first lobster festival, 70 years ago, organizers kept admission fees to $1 for today’s opening.
New to the festival this year is a variation on the Sunday afternoon crate races called the Crate Race Throwdowns. Teams of three first responders will run the crates, combining their individual times for an overall score. Along with speed, points for style will be awarded by local judges Frank Isganitis, Gordon Page, and Mark Tibbets.
According the the Lobster Festival website, competing will be a team from Rockland Fire & EMS, a team from Thomaston Fire & EMS, three teams from the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Rockland, two teams from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thunder Bay, and two teams from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tackle.
Out in the harbor The U.S.S. Mahan (DDG 72) preps for tours. Tours are currently scheduled for Thursday, August 3, and Friday, August 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. These dates and times are subject to change, according to the website.
On this day, as pageant participants rehearsed nearby, Gil Merriam and Harold Simmons volunteered in the Rockland Historical Society tent.
Simmons is the son of the inventor of the lobster roll, a moniker Simmons is willing to live with, though he doesn’t hold fast to the idea that his father alone made the invention.
“Somebody had to come up with the idea,” he said. “It’s not rocket science.”
Merriam skipped Boy Scout Camp in 1948 in order to attend Rockland’s first community lobster gathering. This was the second attempt by the Midcoast to organize such an event. The first took place in Camden the year before. The large turnout overwhelmed the town, according to Merriam.
‘They ran out of lobster, and they ended up having to serve hot dogs,” Merriam said. “They just said, ‘never again.’ It was too much for a small town.”
From then on, Rockland took over the event, doing well until one particular year in the early 1990s. Headlining the entertainment was a very expensive Country Western band called the Bellamy Brothers. The band was rained out, and no cover band had been hired, according to Merriam.
After that, lobster board members decided to shut down the annual affair, but the Samoset Resort made the plea to keep the tradition alive. A new board came together to make the save, including Merriam, who worked for 10 years as vice president and public relations representative.
“It’s the 70th year and still going strong,” Merriam said.
Sarah Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org