Over a century ago, the State of Maine destroyed a mixed race impoverished community of families living on Malaga Island, near Phippsburg, Maine. Some of the people had lived on the island for generations. Their sons and daughters had been taught in a State authorized schoolhouse. All this made no difference. The State evicted the community anyway, paying scant compensation, and making no provision for relocating the people. In a final act of cleansing, work crews exhumed eighteen island graves and reinterred the remains, including those of unnamed children, in the inmate cemetery at Maine’s School for Feeble Minded (now Pineland Farms).
I tell a story of these events, with a special focus on the children whom I encountered in haunting, sometimes charming photographs made near the time of their forced exile. I also wandered amidst the reburial sites at Pineland Farm, making photographs. Inscriptions such as “H. GRIFFIN AND FIVE CHILDREN NOV 1912” so captivated me as to shape the focus and emotional dimensions of this project.
The children of Malaga left little record. In a few photographs and one priceless scrapbook assembled by a man who wanted to educate them, they pose for the camera, dressed within their means, dignified, a bit shy, and sometimes playful. Their faint voices persist only in marginal scribbling in textbooks, thank you notes for a new blackboard, a school essay, and a few personal letters.
One slide show loosely illustrates the narrative. A second evokes the young victims, explores themes of memory and its erasure, and makes space for viewers to pose ethical questions that may arise from studying these events.
Archival material drawn from the Maine State Museum, The Phippsburg Historical Society, the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the Peter Roberts Collection is used by permission. Burke O. Long of Bowdoin College created all other texts, photographs, composite images, and charts. All rights are reserved.
—-Burke O. Long. Summer, 2015