Extending Our Knowledge

When we made the decision to reprint Polly and Her Pals to kick-off our oversized Champagne Edition format, some persons of our acquaintance wondered what we could possibly learn aboutPolly‘s creator, Cliff Sterrett. I’ve adored Polly ever since I first saw a sample of it in the first issue of Nemo magazine, from the 1980s, I had read the biographical information contained there and in a handful of other reprintings, but I knew there had to be more. Jeet Heer and Lorraine Turner were of a similar mind. We each began calling upon our resources and started digging. The result was Jeet’s exceptional essay in our Eisner-nominated Polly Volume 1, easily the most detailed and comprehensive look at Sterrett’s life and career yet to see print.

When we decided to reprint Polly‘s 1933 dailies as the second in our Library of American ComicsEssentials series, I was eager to get the assignment to write text for that release, and I did. That led to an important question: What could I possibly do for an encore?

The answer? I hit the road…

As Jeet discussed in his essay (see page sixteen of our first Polly and Her Pals book), Sterrett had become part of an artists colony located in the seaside town of Ogunquit, Maine. A bit of on-line looking put me in contact with Jane Edgecomb, the administrator of the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit. Jane informed me her Society did indeed have information about the artists colony, so we made the appropriate arrangements and on a bright and summery day, a’researchin’ I did go.

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The Historical Society of Wells & Ogunquit (Wells being Ogunquit’s geographical neighbor) is located on Maine’s busy Route 1, in a quaint old white church.

 

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A modern-looking CVS pharmacy is located next door to the Society; a shopping center featuring a cinema and supermarket is located across the road. Still, the message board next to the Society’s driveway serves as a reminder of small-town, unfranchised America.
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The walkway in front of the Society also caught my attention: the bricks had been inscribed. The Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals have created similar exhibits in Fenway Park and Kauffman Stadium, and as I do when I see those baseball-related bricks, I paused to wonder about the story contained in each brick, each inscription in front of this fine structure.

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One enters the Historical Society not from the doorway you’ve just seen, but from the rear entrance. The library is located on the second floor —long tables for researchers to spread out their books and notes, large bookcases, filing cabinets, framed maps mounted on walls, plus attractive displays that harken back to Maine’s maritime past.

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Jane Edgecomb was on hand to welcome me and set me up with materials related to the artists colony and to Sterrett. For the next three hours I was buried in Ogunquit life during the 1930s through the ’50s. Polly fans are well aware that the strip follows the misadventures of the Perkins Clan, but how many are aware, in an amazing bit of serendipity, that the artists colony grew up around Ogunquit’s Perkins Cove? Or that, in addition to attracting artists, Ogunquit had a lively theater program that brought many “name recognition” actors and actresses to The Pine Street State? In a book on the venerable Ogunquit Playhouse I found an unlikely connection betweenPolly and Little Orphan Annie in the person of Mitzi Greene. As a youngster, Mitzi was the first to portray Annie on the silver screen; as a young woman, she performed on stage in Ogunquit.

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After I finished my work, I chatted for over a half-hour with Jane, who was a delightful conversationalist as well as a gracious host. We broke off our discussion when opportunity came knocking for the Society: a young college student majoring in history approached Jane to inquire about summer volunteer opportunities.

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The Society was not about to pass up willing help!

Before leaving, I went downstairs and took a tour of the Historical Society exhibits opened to the general public. As Jane had mentioned to me, the front part of the building was still used as a function area; a wedding had recently been performed there.

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Between the function area and the rear entrance, historical artifacts of all sorts were on display: some in cases, some on the walls, some large enough to rest on the floor.

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I drove away from Route 1, bound for the turnpike and the two-hour drive home having enjoyed a pleasant day of research, conversation, and Vacationland courtesy. I knew the fine material I had gathered for this on-line travelogue was only the preamble for the fascinating new information and imagery I had collected for use in our upcoming Essential volume.

If, when you read my text feature that will accompany Cliff Sterrett’s fantastic 1933 Polly and Her Pals daily strips, you’re enthusiastic about the new information we’ll be presenting, please remember to extend a mental vote of thanks to Jane Edgecomb and our new friends at the historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit.

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