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OOB ‘museum’ project nears completion

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Town officials, school members, students, businesses and community members have all partnered to bring Museum in the Streets to Old Orchard Beach, joining several other municipalities across Maine, the U.S. and Europe.

The project will include panels placed throughout town highlighting important locations, people and events from Old Orchard Beach’s history. Biddeford installed its own historical panels in 2006, and is one of 10 municipalities in Maine listed on the Museum in the Streets website.

Megan McLaughlin, associate planner for the town and chairman of the Old Orchard Beach Museum in the Streets Committee, said she plans to have the panels installed in time for Old Orchard Beach’s “Imagine Dream Believe” on Saturday, June 16, an event designed to introduce the public to the various town departments.

The Old Orchard Beach installation will consist of 31 panels, including one large introductory panel in town square. The total cost of the project is expected to be $25,000, McLaughlin said, but could change depending on the final word count of each panel. The project is funded by businesses that sponsor panels. Each panel costs $1,000 and includes a space for the sponsoring business’ name or logo.

“It’s going to be a huge event,” McLaughlin said. “We really want the panels up and smack dab in the middle. They will be perfect to look at while people are at the event. I think it’s a great project for Old Orchard Beach. It brought all the departments together. It’s something that encourages walking. Each panel is a way to get people into the historical society, visit the chamber, library or businesses. It’s something that helps out everybody and is a visible thing for people to do.”

Patrick Cardon, founder and director of Museum in the Streets, said in an interview the project began in 1993 with the first panels installed in France in 1995. Cardon was born in France and went to an American high school in Egypt. He said he’s always been interested in history from a young age and started Museum in the Streets as a way to make learning about history more approachable. Cardon was 46 when we founded Museum in the Streets and currently resides in Maine.

Cardon helps towns or historical societys form a committee and offers guidance on how to collect old photographs and tell a story about their community. Cardon has the panels made and delivers them to the town for installation. Cardon declined to say if he was paid for his work.

“Historical societies are organizations existing in their own village or small community that are run by people who live in that town and are really proud of where they live and of their organization,” Cardon said. “They have a very personal approach to history in their own community. Big museums are not into that. They’re into important works of art and all the local heritage is left to the historical societies. They do not have enough funds to share their knowledge and passion with the community so I developed this project as a way to take the museum to the people.”

Thomaston was the first town in the United States to welcome Cardon’s panels. Cardon said he’s working with four other communities to help them install their own public exhibits. He said it brings him and his wife great satisfaction to bring Museum in the Streets to local communities.

“Every town is a different group of people with different personalities,” Cardon said. “Old Orchard Beach went through several fires so there’s a deep sense of history that has been lost in the buildings that burnt down. It’s a sad story but it’s also at the same time a fantastic story of a glorious past. Every experience is unique. The one that ties all people together is the history we all have in common. It’s very human. That’s why I love what I do. One project is as great as the next.”

Denis Letellier, president of Biddeford Historical Society, said he and then president Norman Beaupre helped bring Museum in the Streets to Biddeford more than 10 years ago. He said the walking tour begins at city hall and encouraged more people to learn about the buildings and streets that make up the downtown. The panels are located largely in the downtown area and extend as far as J. Richard Martin Community Center and the entrance to Clifford Park.

“People should learn how important Biddeford was back in those days,” he said. “Biddeford was a thriving town. At one time more people lived here than we have now when the mills were all in force. Friday nights when the shops were open there were police officers at every intersection directing traffic. We had that many people downtown. The city of Biddeford has had a lot of very important people who lived here who contributed to history. Those people should be remembered, who lived before us and made this a great place to live.”

McLaughlin has her own connection to the history in Old Orchard Beach. Her grandfather was once the fire chief when the station was located at town hall, where McLaughlin now works. She said she was grateful for the businesses that sponsored the panels, which will be written in French and English as are panels in Biddeford. Because the fire of 1907 was so prolific in Old Orchard Beach, about a third of the 31 panels will have a fire symbol that indicates an affected area.

McLaughlin said she hopes to have all the materials for the multipurpose panels finalized and delivered to Cardon by Monday, March 12.

“Economically speaking, I hope it makes people slow down a little bit, look for lunch and decide to linger a little bit more in the town that they’re visiting,” Cardon said. “As people walk through towns they discover more and more about some amazing aspects of the country.”