The story of the people, places, things, and events of Old Orchard Beach is told in many ways at the Harmon Museum, through major exhibits focusing on the town’s glorious past; horse, motorcycle, and automobile racing; early aviation (including a beach landing visit by Charles Lindbergh in 1927; famous summer visitors such as comedian Fred Allen, a turn-of-the century whistle stop visit by Theodore Roosevelt; destructive fires of 1907, 1948, 1969, and 1972; the police and fire department; schools, sports, recreation; and, of course, the world-famous seven-miles-long beach.
"Big Band" Era Memorabilia
Do you have great memories of dancing at
the Old Orchard Beach Casino Ballroom at the end of our town's world-famous
eighteen-hundred foot long pier or at the
Palace Dancehall on West Grand
you recall Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians? Did you dance to tunes from the Dorsey
Brothers, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, or Louis "Satchmo"
Armstrong? Were you part of a "Marathon
Dance" couple? Did you see Celine
Dion and others at The Ballpark?
Old Orchard Beach Historical Society volunteers have brought back the great memories of the Big Band Era with this exhibit which took nearly a year to create. In the main exhibit room of Harmon Museum, we are featuring all types of memorabilia of the "Big Bands" of the 1930s through the 1960s.
Come and view sheet music, newspaper articles, magazines, letters, pins, buttons, pictures, clothing, tickets, announcements, posters, and other historic items related to the Big Band Era and all things music, including the large-diameter "disco ball" which hung in the Casino Ballroom until the early nineteen-seventies. As always, admission to the museum is free!
Take a Walk Through the Museum...
If you think museums are staid and boring, then you haven't been to Old Orchard Beach's
Harmon Museum recently. As you enter the foyer of Harmon Museum, you will be mesmerized by a series of prints by Portland artist R. N. Cohen which capture the flavor of lower Old Orchard Street in its heyday, when the world-class Carousel built by German craftsmen, Noah's Ark, the Jack-and-Jill Slide, and the aromatic Coal Mine ride pulled by donkeys drew visitors by the thousands.
Just off the foyer is the the building's original living room which now serves as the main feature hall and houses dynamic exhibits which change over time. Recent exhibits here have included "Amusements in Old Orchard Beach, Past and Present," and the current display is an incredible, not-to-be-missed "Big Band Era Memorabilia" exhibit.
The Fire Room will take you back to the scene of some of the most devastating blazes in
the history of Old Orchard Beach. You will be shocked by the 1907 conflagration which destroyed much of the downtown area. You'll be astonished as you view photographs of the 1948 fire which gutted the "Cyclone," America's premier roller coaster which was located on Old Orchard Street on the West Grand Avenue side. Most heart-pounding is the exhibit about the destruction of the 1969 fire which reduced to ashes Noah's Ark Fun House, the Jack and Jill slide, the "aromatic" donkey-powered Coal Mine ride, and the world-class carousel. Moving down East Grand Avenue, you'll be amazed to watch the results of the 1971 blaze which incinerated the Lafayette and Boisvert hotels, summer home to many prominent Jewish families from all along the East Coast. The current Palace Playland is a replacement for the arcade of the same name destroyed by yet another fire in 1972. The final fire exhibit is a series of photographs taken by Old Orchard Beach Town Clerk Kim Roy McLaughlin, daughter of late Old Orchard Beach Fire Chief Donald Roy. Standing in a room on the third floor of Old Orchard Beach Town Hall, she photographed the blaze which consumed the DY-NO-MITE store on Old Orchard Street in 2004.
Claiming a share of fame, an exhibit depicting people, equipment, and K-9 patrol units of
Old Orchard Police Department share the Fire Room space. Accompanying the police exhibit is a glass case full of police and fire memorabilia.
As you move back through the foyer, look for the left-side alcove which holds a history
of the Ocean Park section of our town. The handiwork of volunteers Carolyn Milley and Ruth
Gladu, it gives a flavor of the Chautauqua movement of the late 1880's in this quiet southern section of Old Orchard Beach.
Moving across the dining room, you'll find that world-class pacers and trotters pounded
their hooves along Old Orchard Beach's "Kite Track," so-called because of its unique kite-like shape. Running in two different eras, the Kite Track, located off Walnut Street, closed July 3, 1950. Look for this exhibit on your left in the Transportation Room.
The Transportation Room takes a unique look at how people moved into, out of, and
around the Old Orchard Beach area. Here you'll find the iconic "Dummy Railroad," which ran
from the1880's to 1923 between downtown Old Orchard Beach and Camp Ellis pier on the Saco River. Through the graciousness of local resident, the late Foster Leavitt, you can marvel at a stand-alone exhibit of the trolley era in Old Orchard Beach and adjoining towns. In this room, you can also check out a working model of Boston and Maine Railroad engine #3637 built by local craftsman Harry Sait.
Ask your docent why Charles Lindbergh landed on the beach here in 1927. Be sure to
find out how and why Captain Harry Jones built a "Flying School" on the sand at the site of the modern-day Friendship Motel on East Grand Avenue, and hear the story of how in the 1930's eight flights headed to Europe from here but not all of them made it safely.
As always, there are nods to the people who are the history-makers of Old Orchard
Beach: W. Warren and Grace Harmon, Ebenezer C. Staples, Frances Grayson, Theodore
Roosevelt, John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald (grandfather of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy),
Ned "the Hermit of Old Orchard Beach" Clemens, Kate Snow, Josephine Staples Moses Goss,
Fred Luce, Bessie Pipinias, Wiley Post, Fred Allen, the Googins and Rogers families, and many others.
The Harmon Museum is free to one and all. Donations are gratefully accepted. For
further information, please call (207)-934-9319 or visit us at: www.harmonmuseum.org