Thursday, August 27, 2009

Perry's Nut House

A local news story this evening brought me back in time; a time of youth and innocence.

Well, maybe not a time of innocence...

It was in the summer of 1970 that I discovered one of the most unique establishments on the coast of Maine. According to their website, “Perry's Nut House has been referred to as a Maine Institution since 1927 when I.L. Perry first opened his doors to sell pecans and other assorted nuts.”

I was part of a motley crew of campers and counselors from a small boys’ camp in Friendship, Maine off for a day trip to Fort Knox where we had searched – in vain – for hidden treasures. Although I, and presumably the rest of my crew, knew full well that the massive edifice built at the mouth of the Penobscot River to protect the City of Bangor from British attack after the War of 1812 was not the place with all the gold, my fellow staff and I attempted to confuse the young lads by insisting that we search every inch of the fort including a trip down into the bowels of the site in search of the precious mineral.

In those days I was learning the art form of how to keep little boys busy, content and tired. Busy boys stay out of trouble and content boys would not write unflattering letters to parents. The "tired" part paid off for the staff when we could call lights out at 9:00 pm and have a few hours of rest and recovery from the “little darlings” before crashing ourselves.

There was only so much Fort Knox to go around that day and by 2:30 we had pretty much seen everything there was to see. The boat back to camp would not be ready until five o’clock so several hours still had to be occupied.

Leading the excursion was Old Man John, the feisty and coarse former camp director who recently had turned over the reigns of the camp to his 28 year old son and taken the role as chief sage and bus driver. But the Old Man still had quite few tricks up his sleeve for killing time; he could write a book. Wherever I traveled with that man in the years that followed he never ceased to amaze me by finding the most unique and “off the beaten track” places that would make any all American boy drool.

That year we were introduced to Perry’s Nut House. Located along busy US Route 1 just north of the port city of Belfast, Perry’s complex of brightly painted yellow building surrounded by a menagerie of strange and exotic “curiosities” can’t be missed. Seemingly from a time long ago, the Perry’s of 1970 sported a larger-than-life bear, elephant, and wooden Indian. And that was just on the outside of the building. Once inside, Perry’s was the kind a place every kid would love and contained the kind of stuff every camp counselor dreaded. That was probably why Old Man John made a lengthy speech warning campers and staff that no one was to buy any contraband. Before we exited the camp bus, the Old Man pulled me aside and told me to keep my eyes on a few of the seniors who would no doubt defy the warning and try to fill their pockets with itchy powder, rubber turds and black soap.

I watched the more recalcitrant members of the brood with extra-sharp, hawk-eyes but Perry’s was a very distracting venue. Apart from the racks and racks of every Maine-related souvenir one could imagine, stacks of candy and goodies that would make a dentist smile, Perry’s was filled with a collection of odd and amazing collectibles including a 10 foot long snake skin, stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes, including alligators and giraffes, a large, menacing gorilla, and yes, even a “man-eating clam!”. Add to this an unlimited supply of comic books and games, fun house stuff like mirrors that made you look two feet tall and quickly all time was lost.

An hour later, and many dollars lighter, the camp boys and staff were back on the bus heading down US 1 satiated and content. Filled with candy and ice cream, more than a few youngsters didn’t finish their supper that night.

And despite the staff’s best efforts, the next morning we all recoiled in disgust when a realistic-looking puddle of rubber vomit was discovered on one of the dining room tables.

The camp director never did find out who put it there, but it would be a couple of years before we would visit Perry’s Nut House again.

See the news story about Perry's Nut House

Perry's Nut House website


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