New Maine News wasn’t always new. Or Maine. Or really news. In fact, before Maine became a state in 1820, New Maine News was known as the Journal of Liberatory Spectacle, and its motto was, “Release us from the ruling classes in hated Bostontown!”
Founded by an anonymous collective of farmers and fishermen, and edited by a mysterious entity named Hezekiah Beal, New Maine News predates the state by several decades. The exact date of its first edition is unknown, as the Journal was distributed in three forms: pamphlets, posters, and disguised as litter blowing around the town square.
Beal himself would often appear in squares throughout the Colony of Maine, standing atop a wooden crate and shouting the day’s news. A tall man even by today’s standards, the six-foot-four-inch Beal was mountainous compared to the malnourished subjects of the Governor of Massachusetts who heard his reports as they commuted by boot to the docks and potato fields.
When Maine was officially admitted into the Union, Beal changed the Journal’s name, and Ye Olde Maine News was born. The next day, the name was changed to New Maine News. There are no surviving copies of Ye Olde Maine News accessible to the public or scholars, but several copies are in private collections. Estimates of their value reach into the tens of dollars.
One of the stranger aspects of this strange newspaper is the longevity of its editor-in-chief — not his tenure in that position, but his lifespan. Hezekiah Beal’s name appears on anti-Massachussetts literature dating back to the late 1600s, yet it’s also on the masthead of every issue of New Maine News dated well into the mid-1800s. Modern investigative historians developed three theories to explain this: Beal is immortal, he’s a vampire but killable, or he’s Santa.
To the profound disappointment of the Maine Vampire Hunters Association, which funded the historical research, it appears there’s a much more plausible, less bitey explanation.
Archivists recently found an article in another Maine paper of the period, from 1845, that describes Hezekiah Beal as “a man of the illest and most vile repute, with whom few could meet without being driven to a rage.” The article goes on to report that Beal has disappeared following publication of an exposé in New Maine News.
That front-page story, headlined, “Maine’s Cod Fishermen Cry About Their Catch Yet Light Their Lamps With the Cleanest and Most Lavish of Whale Oils, According to My Esteemed Colleagues,” caused an uproar. Most Maine families couldn’t afford whale oil and had to fuel their lanterns with sardine grease.
Still, even the greasiest sardine squeezer made a better living than the journalists. Hezekiah Beal eventually resurfaced (literally) in a town down the coast, and he continued to investigate the corporate-industrial giants of his day, like Big Barrell, Big Candle, and Big Clam. “Clammers Claim Great Hardship,” another NMN headline began, “Yet Their Bounty Grows Abundant in Foul Muck Which God Himself Would Disavow for Its Filthy Nature.” That one got him tarred and feathered.
Following publication of a particularly acerbic series on lumberjacks, Hezekiah Beal’s lengthy run as editor of New Maine News ended, albeit briefly. In place of his name on the masthead there appeared a series of X’s. A few weeks later, his name reappeared.
Scholars now believe the name Hezekiah Beal is passed down to whatever ignoble schmoe becomes editor-in-chief of New Maine News. There’s no ceremony or celebration to mark the transition, just the glum passing of the scrapbook containing news clips from the paper’s past.
In anticipation of the 200th anniversary of New Maine News (March 15, 2020), we’re publishing highlights from that storied scrapbook in Mainer.
We hope you enjoy these selections from the first two centuries of Maine’s only trustworthy, honest news source. And who knows? You might even learn something.