Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 25th, 2008
The Maine news media are warming up their stories on the Durham “gorilla.” I’ve been contacted, asking me if I heard the rumor that a zoo released an ape in 1973, in Maine. Of course, I have not and have not been able to track down any factual basis to such a rumor. Besides, Maine doesn’t have any zoos, in general, other than seasonal ones at York and on Mt. Desert Island, and certainly none that lost or released an ape in 1973.
Also, one sheriff’s deputy was tracked down by another reporter, but refused to talk to the media.
Such is the status of an old story in this New England state. Nevertheless, by the first weekend in August, expect to see some “flashback” articles on the sightings.
I contributed the following summary of the Durham, Maine, sightings to the BFRO archives several years ago. On the occasion of these events’ 35th anniversary, I share them here.
COUNTY: Cumberland County
LOCATION DETAILS: (#1) Shiloh-Lisbon Falls Road area, in Brunswick, Maine; half-mile from the Huntington home, in Durham, Maine.
(#2) near Durham Road, in the Jones Cemetery, Durham, Maine.
(#3) River Road, near the Jones Cemetery, at the Durham-Brunswick, Maine line.
(#4) “behind the Jones Cemetery.” at the Durham-Brunswick, Maine line.
OBSERVED: (#1) Mrs. Huntington reported (after her own sighting – #3 – the following day) that her daughters have seen the animal three or four times. The first sighting consisted of four youngsters on bicycles seeing it. The three Huntington children (Lois Huntington, 13; George Huntington Jr., 10; Scott Huntington, 8) and their friend (Tammy Sairo, 12) were riding along the road about a half-mile from the Huntington home. They matter-of-factly reported an encounter with a chimp.
Mrs. Huntington would later tell reporters: “My 13-year-old daughter fell off her bike about three feet from him and all he did was cock his head and look at her.” It was described as upright and chimpanzee-like. The quiet, intelligent, reserved Lois reportedly told the Maine Sunday Telegram: “I fell right down in front of him and all he did was look at me. I would have known if it were a hippie or something. But it had a regular monkey face. You have seen a monkey before, haven’t you?”
(#2) A gorilla-like animal standing on its hind legs was observed two or three times by a James Washburn. Officers searching the area found moose and deer tracks. (Note by LC – Finding moose tracks anywhere in Maine is not unusual.)
(#3) Mrs. George (Meota) Huntington, 33, of Lisbon Falls Road, Durham was driving home from a baseball game when she saw the “ape” peeking out from the bushes on the Durham Road. It was twenty feet away, and made a “mad dash” on two legs into the heavily wooded area. The exact description of the “ape” was that it was a little over five feet tall, with a shaggy, black coat, and weighing about 350 pounds.
She says it had a “monkey face.” “Chimp-like” was another way it was described. She coasted her vehicle so as not to scare it, but when it apparently saw her vehicle, then it ran into the woods. She reportedly saw it two separate times during this incident, as she returned with neighbors and sighted it again. She stayed in her car, as others searched the woods. She was sitting in her car, when she saw it again, peering at her from the crotch of a tree.
Soon after police were notified, the following arrived to begin a search – Androscoggin Sheriff’s Department (a number of deputies), Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department, the Maine State Police, and State of Maine Game Wardens. Altogether, over thirty officers in thirty police cars searched for the animal for two hours. (A helicopter was used in a search in the following days.)
Tracks found near a cemetery and not directly associated with the sighting looked human but had claws – they appeared to be of a bear. At first, that night, some officers brushed off the whole incident as a bear sighting. This would change.
Huntington commented: “They make it out to a monster. I never said it was a monster.”
(#4) By Friday, 27 July 1973, several more (unidentifed) witnesses had come forth saying they had seen “it”. At 7:30 PM, Peter and Jean Merrill found a footprint behind the Jones Cemetery, the scene of most of the sightings. They said it looked like a chimpanzee print.
Androscoggin County Deputy Sheriff Blaine Footman (sic) examined the series of prints, and cast what was described as one which was “rather deep.” Footman said it was about five inches wide with “the thumb part broken off. Whatever made it weighs 300 or 350 pounds and I can’t tell you much more. It’s definitely not a bear track. I don’t know what’s going on here and I’d rather not express an opinion.”
(Reports of a gorilla suit not returned since March to a Portland area costume shop were mentioned in the press, but did not seem to be considered too related to these incidents by the central Maine authorities.
By Saturday, 28 July 1973, after many more phone calls from others confirming they had seen an unusual animal in the area, police were taking the sightings very seriously.)
(High level of reliability, according to Brent Raynes and David Downs who interviewed witnesses and investigated the case in 1973.)
OTHER WITNESSES: See above. Huntington’s daughters and friend were riding bikes near their home. Washburn’s activities are not noted. Huntington was in her automobile, returning from a local baseball game.
Incident #1) Lois Huntington, 13; George Huntington Jr., 10; Scott Huntington, 8 and their friend Tammy Sairo, 12
Incident #2) James Washburn
Incident #3) Mrs. George (Meota) Huntington, 33
Incident #4) Peter and Jean Merrill
OTHER STORIES: SOURCES: Loren Coleman has archival copies of articles on this series. They appeared in the following newspapers:
26 July 1973 The Times Record, Brunswick, Maine.
27 July 1973 Evening Journal, Lewiston-Auburn, Maine.
27 July 1973 Press Herald, Portland, Maine.
27 July 1973 Daily Sun, Lewiston, Maine.
27 July 1973 Evening Express, Portland, Maine.
27 July 1973 The Times Record, Brunswick, Maine.
28 July 1973 Daily Sun, Lewiston, Maine.
28 July 1973 Press Herald, Portland, Maine.
28 July 1973 Evening Express, Portland, Maine.
29 July 1973 Boston Sunday Globe, Boston, Massachusetts.
29 July 1973 Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland, Maine.
30 July 1973 Daily Sun, Lewiston, Maine.
30 July 1973 Evening Journal, Lewiston-Auburn, Maine.
30 July 1973 The Times Record, Brunswick, Maine.
31 July 1973 The Times Record, Brunswick, Maine.
TIME AND CONDITIONS: (#1) 25th, afternoon, (#2) 25th, nighttime, (#3) 26th, about 7:15 p.m., (#4) footprint discovered 27th, 7:30 p.m.
ENVIRONMENT: The State of Maine’s land area is covered by 95% trees, and this area is no exception. The River Road area is heavily wooded and, as implied in the name, close to a nearby watershed. The location is sparsely populated with infrequent houses, a cemetery, blacktop roads, and wildlife preserves (for native birds, deer) nearby.