A Glorious 4th on the 5th
James Hayman: Although there are a lot of great neighborhoods in the city of Portland, anyone who reads my books must know that Munjoy Hill has long been my favorite. My hero Mike McCabe, his girlfriend Kyra and his daughter Casey share a three-bedroom condo on the Eastern Prom “looking out at Casco Bay and the islands. That view, and the fact that it was less than a mile walk to police headquarters were the primary reasons he’d paid more than he could afford for the…condo when he signed on, three years earlier, as chief of the PPD’s Crimes Against People unit.” (From The Cutting.)
In an early scene from The Chill of Night I describe McCabe as he “turned left on Congress and headed west down Munjoy Hill. In spite of a decade of gentrification The Hill still retained the look and feel of its working class roots. Smallish wood-frame houses built sometime around 1900. Most divided into apartments. Tonight (an especially frigid winter night) they were all closed up tight, curtains drawn. He continued down the hill, passing a few couples heading for one or another of the bars and restaurants that were sprouting like weeds. The Front Room. The Blue Spoon. Bar Lola.”
Detective Maggie Savage, McCabe’s partner in crime-fighting has her own place on The Hill, a three-flight walkup on Vesper Street, a couple of blocks in from McCabe’s apartment on the Prom.
This summer my wife Jeanne and I decided for the second summer in a row to rent our house on Peaks Island to summer visitors and move into town. We’re living on the third-floor of one of those hundred-year-old wood frame houses on The Hill (more or less halfway between McCabe’s and Maggie’s) where we enjoy an excellent view of the water. Not quite as good as McCabe’s but still pretty nice.
Perhaps the best part is that we’re only one house in from the Prom and less than a one-minute walk from Fort Allen Park, Portland’s most beautiful public space and, without question, the jewel in Munjoy Hill’s crown.
Set on a sixty-eight acre grassy hill, Fort Allen Park slopes down from the Prom and offers, in addition to its tennis courts, sandy beach and picnic tables, endlessly breath-taking views of Casco Bay and the islands beyond.
Every Fourth of July what seems like most of the population of Portland crowds into the park to watch the annual fireworks display set off from a barge anchored just off-shore. This year, however, just as the Portland Symphony was winding up its concert of patriotic music and minutes before the fireworks were set to begin, a lightning storm lit up the eastern skies in a heavenly display that dwarfed anything the city could hope to put on. Torrential rain, high wind and dangerously close lightning strikes forced officials to cancel the show and reschedule it for the following night. The crowd trudged home, soaked I assume, to the skin. I thought, given the disappointing evening, most wouldn’t return.
Turned out I was wrong. By the evening of the fifth the skies had cleared and most of the people came back. Not quite as many as the night before but still an estimated thirty thousand of them. The Portland Symphony replayed its entire program concluding with the signature 1812 Overture which was followed one of the best fireworks displays I can remember seeing anywhere.
According to the Portland Press Herald, “PSO conductor Robert Moody summed up the mood of the crowd before the signature overture (began). ‘ “I don’t think there’s any place better in the country to celebrate Independence Day than on the Eastern Prom with the Portland Symphony Orchestra,’ he said, to cheers.” I agree.