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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Crispus Graves, Hermit of East Deering Village

     Perhaps two of the most interesting characters in the history of East Deering Village is the second Crispus Graves and his brother, Eben or Ebenezer Graves.  Census records from 1870, indicate that the two brothers lived alone on a small farm left to them by their now deceased father, Andrew Graves.  Since so much of the history of that early settlement has been lost over time, it's exciting that we actually have some published record of the two brothers and , at least in my vivid imagination, can almost form a mental picture of the two.

     When Crispus Graves died on March 15, 1879, his death called public attention to the "eccentricities of two brothers who have almost lived the lives of hermits within a short distance of the city", a quote from the Portland Sunday Times, published on Sunday Morning, March 23, 1879.  One of them, the newspaper mentions, had not been to town or crossed the road from their home for thirty-six years.  The article goes on to mention that while the small farm was well cultivated and cared for, and the small cottage, 'neatly blinded and painted', the inside revealed another picture.  Apparently, the two brothers lived in one room, straw mattress for their bed, a kitchen, and a workshop for repairing harnesses, wagons and other farm implements.  The walls were dark with soot and  covered with newspaper articles and significant accounts   of important events dating back to 1840 and included  the Great Fire of 1866.  In the cupboards were muskets and guns, possibly from their Grandfather, Lieut .Crispus Graves and their father, Andrew; both had served in the militia for the defense of the colony and the district of Maine.
     The article, also published in the Portland Daily Press and the Eastern Argus,  goes on to describe the men in a way that brings to mind images from my childhood growing up in Gloucester, Massachusetts of the statue of the Fisherman at the Wheel, wearing the sou'wester hat.  Apparently, both Crispus and Eben always wore sou'wester hats  and  'ulster' coats. Frankly, I had no idea what an ulster was.  After a bit of searching, I have learned that  in the 1800's it was worn by gentlemen as an overcoat worn over other clothing for warmth.  




 I found this image and hope that Crispus and Eben Graves forgive my need to imagine.

     Neighbors, the article stated, said that the brothers never changed their clothing until it was absolutely necessary. I immediately recalled  a tale I heard from  Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories about the 'Norwegian bachelor  farmers who always wore the one suit they owned, buttoned to the top button, and  who only took a bath when they could no longer live with themselves.  The bachelors, like our two Graves brothers kept to themselves, but were hard workers, given to hiring local men to help with the farm work in the summer season.  Neighbors also indicated, according to the newsprint,  that the men were 'chary about admitting strangers' to their home.  However,the articles go on to say that despite their eccentricities both  Crispus and Eben Graves were well regarded and respected by their neighbors as kind and intelligent men.  Most notable, is Crispus Graves generosity.  When he died in 1879, Crispus Graves "left the bulk of his property, between $15,000 and $20, 000, to School District No. 5, in Falmouth to be used for educational purposes.  The last record I have been able to find of Eben Graves in the 1880 Census when he was reported to be 68 years of age and living alone in East Deering, then Westbrook.

     Here at least is a remnant of East Deering history which enhances our  insight into one of its earliest settlers interred in the Grand Trunk Cemetery.  One of the remaining intact memorial stones belongs to Crispus Graves.  The white marble inscription is barely legible.  However, it does remain as monument to the unique character and life of the man who was  Crispus Graves, farmer, hermit and philanthropist.