A 53-year tradition begun by Bill Brawn

Camden’s Mt. Battie Christmas Star ready to shine again Thanksgiving Day

Sun, 11/17/2013 - 7:30pm

Story Location:
Mount Battie Road
Camden, ME 04843
United States

    CAMDEN —

    The Mt. Battie Christmas Star is now bolted into place atop the tower, with a few replacement light bulbs added, ready to be lit Thanksgiving evening.

    In 2011, the Lions Club marked the 50th anniversary of the star on Mt. Battie, a tradition that originated with a lighted star on the Mechanic Street side of French and Brawn Market Place downtown. Bill Brawn put up that star and he was a member of the Lions Club at the time.

    Brawn's star was 12-feet-high with a wooden frame. It glowed with 100 25-watt bulbs. Its location on Mechanic Street meant that only those driving south on Route 1 through downtown could see it, so the downtown merchants suggested the star be moved to the stone tower on Mt. Battie, according to town historian Barbara Dyer.

    The Camden Lions Club eventually took over annual installation and daily operation of the star and Raymond Drinkwater built a much larger, steel star. That star was replaced in the 1990s by another steel star on which another 100 light bulb sockets were strung. That star has remained in use today, with some replacement parts and spray paint added, but little design modification.

    The star is still steel and it still uses the old light sockets, which volunteers are always cautious to try and not damage during installation, which usually occurs two Saturdays before Thanksgiving Day.

    The week before trucking or trailering the steel arms up the mountain, volunteers remove the disassembled star from storage and check for wear and tear, and any broken bits or missing bolts.

    A spare jar of bolts and nuts and miscellaneous items is packed into the old metal tool box marked "STAR" and that contains wrenches and sockets and other hand tools, along with modern conveniences like duct tape and zip ties. The tool box also contains a laminated diagram of the star, which in recent years includes color coding that matches colors spray painted on the steel arms to help with assembling the big puzzle.

    The work begins with the attachment of two wood beams that lay across the top of the tower and are secured with steel brackets, arms and large bolts. Anyone visiting the tower after this weekend has to climb under the beams to get access to the opposite of the tower from the staircase.

    During assembly, each piece of steel is delivered to the top of the tower (today by drivable man lift, previously by walking them up the spiral staircase) and bolted into place and the star begins to take shape.

    Each piece of steel is bolted into place, on each end, to its adjoining pieces of steel. If one imagines drawing a star by starting at one point and never lifting the pencil, one can get the idea of how the Mt. Battie star comes together. Only in this case, it's like making that simple star out of 12-foot-long steel toothpicks.

    Maneuvering around the prone star can be tricky. It usually takes at least one or two head-bumps while climbing under and between the increasingly smaller free spaces before the effort becomes safer for noggins.

    The wear and tear the star sustains each winter, due to storms of ice, wind and snow, means that the star never quite fits back together the same year after year. Sometimes it takes some strong legs to encourage holes to line up so the bolts can be slid in and tightened down. This year was no different.

    Until last year, organization of volunteers and installation of the star was done under the direction of Bob Oxton, a member of the Lions Club and former Camden Fire Chief. And for many years, Oxton was the only one doing the daily lighting, a task and responsibility he enjoyed, most times. In 2012, Tom Jackson, owner of Jackson's Landscape Services in Camden, began to take over Oxton's role.

    "Bob decided to give it up because he wanted to follow his grandchildren playing basketball in school, and the time he needed to be up lighting the star each day was the same time he would be needing to travel to a game," said Jackson. "I actually got involved with the star 10 or 12 years ago, helping in a bigger way, and I am always really enthusiastic about it."

    That enthusiasm carried over Saturday, Nov. 17, to the newest member of the volunteer installation team, Jim Hamilton of Camden. Hamilton and his wife, Sondra, own Zoot Coffee downtown. Another volunteer, Peter Rollins of Lincolnville, brought Hamilton along.

    "I'm hooked," said Hamilton in his strong Scottish accent. "I love this, it's so cool [sounds like 'kuuhull" with rolling "L"s]. I want to do this every year. The view from the top of the tower is just fantastic and this is just coolest thing to do."

    In addition to Jackson, Rollins and Hamilton, the puzzle-making, bolt-turning tower crew included longtime star installation and lighting volunteer Randy Stearns and Camden firefighter Mary Carver. Working outside the tower on the Frost and Bryant-donated man lift were Camden firefighters Ryan Fisher and Tom Bland, with Lt. Scott Entwistle, and Lions Club members Frank Morong and Frank Carr handing the steel arms, brackets and light bulbs up as needed. Also on the ground, standing by, were Camden Fire Chief Chris Farley and firefighter Kevin Mulvihill.

    In addition to Jackson and Stearns, the daily drive up the mountain to pour 2-1/2 gallons of gasoline into the generator and turn on the lights at dusk is shared by a handful of volunteers. Gary Fowlie, of Village Variety, donates the gas each day during the period the star stays lit, from Thanksgiving Day to New Year's Eve.

    This Thanksgiving, Jackson said he will unlock the Mt. Battie Road gate in Camden Hills State Park at 3:45 p.m. in anticipation of lighting the star around 4 p.m. The gate is usually locked at sunset each day.

    "I'll leave it unlocked while we are up there, but then we'll need to clear out the cars a few minutes later and lock it back up," said Jackson.

    Editorial Director Holly S. Edwards can be reached at hollyedwards@penbaypilot.com or 706-6655.