Through the sheer dedication of countless community members for six decades now, the Maine Lobster Festival has endured and, many would say, has succeeded in getting better with each passing year.
It all began at a gathering of a group of citizens and summer folk in March of 1947, where a discussion arose as to what could be done about reviving the summer activities that Camden had prior to the war years. It was decided that having a marine festival of some sort would be appropriate. Having it become an annual affair was intentional from the beginning.
It was known that a lobster festival held in Nova Scotia was a big success, and it was then suggested that this activity might be the answer for the community. In addition, it was suggested that it was time the Maine lobster and the Maine lobster fishermen came into their own. On that basis the Camden-Rockport Lobster Festival was conceived as being the logical type of festival for this area.
Upon deciding to do this, a non-profit organization known as the Camden-Rockport Lobster Festival, Inc. was formed. Its president was Earl Fuller of the Maine Coast Sea Food Corporation; the Vice President, Clinton Lunt of the Camden Shipbuilding and Marine Railway Co.; the Secretary, E. Hamilton Hall, editor of The Camden Herald and the Treasurer and Executive Director, Henry S. Bickford.
An executive committee was formed to work with and advise the group from the very first festival and still continues today. The first officers were, Wayne Buxton of the Maine Development Commission; Owen Smith, editor of the Maine Coast Fisherman; Rudolph O. Marcoux, National Sales Director of the Maine Broadcasting System and Percy Keller, Camden's town manager. In addition, the Maine Sea and Shore Fisheries Commission, in the person of Richard Reed, assisted the executive director.
Talbot O Freeman, VP of Pepsi Cola Company and Master of Ceremonies of the Camden-Rockport Lobster Festival shows an example of the big fellows he looks forward to eating at the festival on Saturday. The soft drink company has generously arranged, as a public service to the community, for profits for their sale of their drink at the festival to be enjoyed by the Camden YMCA whose members will man the the refreshment booth.
As published on the front page of the Camden Herald, Thursday, August 14, 1947.
The offer of "All the lobster you can eat for $1" caused the first festival to lose money and for that and other reasons the original Camden group did not pursue the event a second year. At the same time, the Rockland Junior Chamber of Commerce decided to bring the Lobster Festival to Rockland as a club project.
The 1948 festival featured a parade, hot lobster cooked by several local dealers and trucked to Rockland 's Public Landing, a concert by the Rockland City Band on Saturday afternoon, and a coronation ball Saturday evening at the Rockland Community Building . At this premier coronation, Ruth Roberts of Rockland was crowned as the first "Miss Maine Seafoods." It was in 1948 that the festival extended from one day to two and was held in July. Since then, the Maine Lobster Festival is held the first weekend in August that contains the first Saturday. There are some festival traditions that have been consistent since the beginning. These are the selection of a Sea Goddess, the serving of Maine lobster, and a grand parade.
The Parade & Grand Marshal
The festival parade has many years drawn the largest crowd of the weekend and often proves to be among the longest parades in Maine during the year. Grand marshals for festival parades have ranged from local, long-time workers for the event, to people prominent in state and national politics.
Every year we host folks from around the country including Hawai! And guests from 79 countries visited us all the way from Algeria to Zimbabwe.
The Festival Grows
The Lobster Festival of 1948 became the "Maine Lobster and Seafoods Festival". This name change was precipitated by the generous donation of hundreds of pounds of ocean perch by the Birdseye Division of General Foods, to be cooked and served with the lobster.
In 1949 the festival expanded to three days and continued to be run by the Junior Chamber of Commerce as a club project. This was a very successful year for the festival and promoted this event to becoming Maine 's premier summer event. It had grown from a one-day parade and lobster feast in Camden to three days of events, with a Sea Goddess, visiting ships, Neptune and his Court of the Sea, and exhibitions.
In the fall of 1949 the local Junior Chamber of Commerce decided that the festival was too big to be operated by them alone and voted to form a corporation. Other local organizations such as the Elks, Rotary, Kiwanis Lions, and American Legion, as well as the Rockland Chamber of Commerce joined in the commitment to making the festival a community-wide event helping to promote its tourism and seafood orientation. The festival's fame spread farther and faster because of increased participation by outside groups.
Community Rallies for Festival
Carnival rides, games and side-shows became part of the festival in the late 1970s through the mid-'80s. A couple of years of poor weather, coupled with rising costs for staging the festival exerted a financial strain. In the early 1990s it was announced that the festival would not be held — promises were made that it would return after a one-year hiatus. Community reaction was swift and strong. Canceling the Maine Lobster Festival, even for a year, was not acceptable for many of the community leaders.
The greater Rockland area rallied to its support with an infusion of new leadership and business sponsorships. A wave of community support, including financial, brought about a dramatically improved Maine Lobster Festival. Directors reorganized the event from top to bottom, even arranging for construction of a new "World's Largest Lobster Cooker." With renewed enthusiasm, new directors, along with a few of the remaining long-time directors and other hard working volunteers, the festival was rebuilt into what is now recognized as one of New England’s great summer events. During its 60 years, the festival has consistently maintained a focus on the state's most famous crustacean.
The Maine Lobster Festival is indeed one of Maine 's premier summer events and is recognized nationally. During the past several years, scores of articles about the festival have appeared in national magazines and major metropolitan newspapers. It also has been featured on several national television programs, including a feature broadcast on the Food Network. It gained (and has maintained) recognition and honors from two national organizations: The American Bus Association has again selected the festival as one of the "Top 100 Events inNorth America ." Events Business News, a trade association publication covering more than 38,000 events in the United States , has recognized the Maine Lobster Festival as one of the "Top 250 Events in the United States ."
The organization and success of each year's Maine Lobster Festival depends on the dedicated service of a Board of Directors, all volunteers from the local community, who work throughout the year to handle thousands of details. The Festival Corporation is a non-profit organization. Individuals can join as members and a special effort was been made in 2005 to encourage this new level of membership. There are generations of both local and 'out of state' families who had committed their energies to the festival… You are indeed true volunteers!
Contributing to the Community
An often-asked question by visitors to each year's Maine Lobster Festival is, "just what does the festival do for the community with the money it earns each year?" It is a legitimate question and visitors may be interested in the answer.
In addition to bringing such national — and even international — attention and goodwill to the Rockland area, the festival helps bring in nearly $1 million of "outside" money into the regional economy. The Festival Board of Directors sees to it that seed money for the following year's event is allocated. Just how much is available for donation to the community depends to a great extent on weather, the one variable that can never be completely controlled. The surplus is contributed to the greater Rockland community for beneficial projects and activities.
We are part of this wonderful community and in just the past several years, the Maine Lobster Festival Directors have pledged $200,000 to the Gateway Center Project now known as The Maine Lighthouse Museum. The festival also has given $5,000 to the Rockland Police Department for new furniture and donated two new floats for use by the City of Rockland at the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. The Festival has made contributions to groups such as local schools, Children's Museum, Rockland-Thomaston Area Chamber of Commerce and Senior Spectrum. Also, the Festival Board provided $12,000 for new fencing at Mildred Merrill Park, donated $10,000 to the Bob Gagnon Cancer Center at Penobscot Bay Medical Center, purchased a new ambulance for the city of Rockland and provided funds to pave the entire Rockland Public Landing. The group funded repairs to the decking at the middle pier, adjacent to the giant lobster cooker costing $10,000. In addition, all income derived from the admission fees of children entering the grounds has gone to the Rockland Recreation Center Building Fund.
Within the past 10 years, the Board of Directors donated a parcel of land, now known as Mildred Merrill Park, which is adjacent to the festival grounds, to the City of Rockland . The land will be kept as "green space" and will retain an unencumbered view of the city’s harbor from South Main Street .
Each year the festival contributes considerable volunteer hours and funds in grooming and improving the appearance of Harbor Park.
A portion of its earnings also is placed in the Festival Recreation Trust Fund, from which money is distributed for worthy recreation projects throughout Knox County.
The Maine Lobster Festival, a non-profit activity is run entirely by unpaid volunteers, is a colorful and enjoyable event that builds community spirit and enhances the region’s economy.
Volunteering at the festival is a wonderful way of making new friends and connecting with existing ones.
While nearly 1,000 area citizens volunteer some time during each year's Lobster Festival, it is the Board of Directors who makes it possible for the gates to open. No sooner have the gates closed on one year's celebration than the planning begins on the next year's event.