I grew up in Scarborough, Maine, on the south coast of Portland. My hometown includes several beautiful beaches, the state's largest salt marsh, and a wealthy enclave called Prouts Neck where I generally discourage people from going.
Prouts Neck has become famous around the world as the setting for some of the most impressive seascapes ever painted; Winslow Homer made his home on the rocky peninsula during the final years of his life where he created such masterpieces as Weatherbeaten (above) and Fog Warning. My own connection to the great man is slight. When I worked as a bellman at the venerable Black Point Inn (BPI), I would occasionally lead hotel guests along the cliffwalk to the the late artist's studio where Homer's grand niece, Doris, would regale them with tales of her genius ancestor.
I enjoyed my five summers working at the inn—more so in retrospect—but I maintain that Prouts Neck is the least welcoming place I have ever visited in Maine (rivaled only by a certain offshore island famous for its lobster wars). As an employee of the hotel, with a legitimate reason to be there, I was constantly finding my presence challenged in odd ways. Once, while walking Scarborough Beach, which adjoins the beach club, I was accosted by an elderly woman who perceived that I had crossed some invisible but powerful property line. When I tried to explain, politely, that I didn't mean to trespass—in fact I had even waited on her at the hotel on occasion—she tossed a fistful of pebbles in my general direction.
Twenty years ago, the Prouts Neck Club would also employ an off-duty Scarborough police officer to ticket speeders who marginally exceeded the posted limit. One evening, while visiting the maintenance barn, this cop confessed to my co-workers that he tended to target cars with Maine license plates since most of the neck's influential property owners lived out-of-state. Nor did he want to scare off well-heeled visitors to the inn. (In fairness, however, I saw him stop many vehicles with Massachusetts and New York plates and had to deal with the emotional fallout later in the hotel lobby.) I managed to escape my daily commutes without ever incurring his wrath, but there is no sensation quite so galling as being declared unwelcome in your own hometown.
Over the years, I have made my peace with the Neckers (as some of the BPI staff called them) and wish them the quietude they so greatly desire. As far as the inn itself goes, I have only fond memories. The ancient hotel—built in 1878 and haunted by many spirits, not all of them happy—seems to have been a breeding ground for future crime novelists for some reason; the Irish novelist John Connolly also worked there, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn of other former waiters and dishwashers who went on to write tales of murder. The inn was a fantastically moody place. Fog was a constance presence in the evenings. Elderly people died peacefully in their beds there from time to time, and needed to be removed without drawing attention from the other guests. And a great horned owl roosted regularly in the pines above the back parking lot. At night you could feel him watching as you made your rounds.
You can read more reflections on Homer (who remains my favorite painter for sentimental reasons), Prouts Neck, and other Maine observations over at the day job.