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What if the Walls Can Talk?

As more and more seasonal displays light up the night and warm our hearts (the personal gifts to drivers-by that include the wonders of Boothbay Lights and Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Aglow), we are prompted to think of the stories unfolding inside. The variety of holiday houses, concerts, plays and historical village strolls offer a pageant of senses behind their welcoming doors.

The stories happen inside. The lights, the open doors, are beacons that signal magic within. The festive passages of time being written by those presenting and receiving the gift of the moment.

Such is the historical record, too. We just read that Boothbay has now digitized deeds going back to 1761. Any researcher who has toiled in the dusty volumes of Town Halls near and far is happy to hear the news, and happier that the 21st century has surpassed the eye-straining script on reels of microfilm (though they will still remember the moment in the archive when a presence seemed to tap them on the shoulder to say, “No. Not this book. Look over there.”)

Which brings us to another captivating story reported in The New Yorker, about scientist Pier Giorgio Righetti in Milan who is working on proteomics, a test that searches for proteins that reveal traces of elemental metals, biologics and even DNA on ancient artifacts. Other proteomics scientists have found harbor seal protein on a six-hundred-year-old Inuit cooking pot found in northern Alaska. Having convinced one or two of the mostly-dubious curators to allow him to take a pinhead size sample of an object — like the 13th century “Marco Polo Bible” that was so tattered that simply preserving the artifact meant collecting the crumbs of parchment – Righetti has perfected the test so he can apply a film to the surface rather than taking a piece. His initial tests revealed traces of gold and mercury on the papers of famed astronomer Johannes Kepler, who may like his peers, have been experimenting with alchemy, trying to discover the secret of turning lead to gold. Revealed when the proteomic film was applied to its surface of his journals.

Imagine being able to see the lives that went before us through the traces of what the people in those rooms left behind.

What if the walls can talk?

The challenge, of course, is peeling back the layers. Like wallpaper in old houses. In fact, within each layer of that wallpaper might be the chemical fingerprints of the agents of their times. The discovery depends on finding layers that have not been disrupted by improvements or the act of preservation itself.

Still, it makes you wonder: is there a bit of Kennedy DNA on the dock at Spruce Point Inn where Palawan stopped (or maybe a trace of the Mercury capsule that orbited fellow sailor John Glenn around the Earth)? Was some of the tea-steeping steam captured in the ground floor rooms of our historic inn, once Walter Holland’s wife’s tea room? Does the coffee table in Osprey Cottage hold the outline of the clam shell you picked up on our beach, that now sits on your desk? 

Like those rooms filled with colorful holiday décor, aromas of woodsmoke and baked delights, choirs of handbells and angels, behind each door we can now ‘see’ centuries of stories, past visitors, and the genius of those who know how to welcome each traveler in.

The stuff of “oceanside memories, made in Maine.”