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Leslie Bridgers

After a decade reporting on the news of Portland's suburbs, Leslie is excited to let loose on MaineToday, where the scoops are more ice cream, less scandal -- much like her life. After hours, you can find her reluctantly covering right field for the company softball team, bowling a straight ball at Bayside or wandering down from Munjoy Hill in search of food and drink.

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Posted: October 18, 2016

Mythical or not, Wessie’s made real waves

Written by: Leslie Bridgers
The International Cryptozoology Museum made Wessie T-shirts to sell and will be on hand at Saturday's Wessie Fest. Photo courtesy of of International Cryptozoology Museum

The International Cryptozoology Museum made Wessie T-shirts to sell and will be on hand at Saturday’s Wessie Fest.
Photo courtesy of of International Cryptozoology Museum

It worked with Nessie.

A quick Amazon search shows you can buy anything from a key chain to a tea infuser with the likeness of the Loch Ness Monster. So, why not Wessie?

Capitalizing on Maine’s closest thing to a mythical creature was what came to Kevin Beling’s mind when the story of a giant snake sighting in Westbrook broke in June.

“It was happening whether I was going to be the one to do it or not,” said Beling, an IT-guy-by-day-musician-by-night who penned a folk song about Wessie and put it up on YouTube.

“The Wessie Song” is sung from the perspective of the snake’s country bumpkin owner, pleading for his pet to return: “Oh Wessie, Wessie, please come home to me/I’ve got a bunch of mice waiting here for thee.”

Of course, we all know the python-that-might-be-an-anaconda prefers beavers, but, don’t worry, they get a mention in the lyrics, too.

The video has been viewed more than 14,000 times, which Beling considers viral, but it doesn’t appear to have fulfilled his original purpose — to garner a few more fans of his band, Drivetrain, he said.

Here’s the video to “The Wessie Song”

The folks at Westbrook brewery Mast Landing have been a little more fortunate.

What started as a joke about brewing a West Coast IPA and naming it Wessie turned out to be the brewery’s most successful marketing ploy since opening in March.

Mast Landing held a “catch and release” party to introduce the new beer in July. “That was actually busier than our opening night,” said brewery owner Ian Dorsey.

Westbrook brewery Mast Landing saw a surge in popularity after the release of its Wessie IPA. Photo courtesy of Mast Landing

Westbrook brewery Mast Landing saw a surge in popularity after the release of its Wessie IPA.
Photo courtesy of Mast Landing

The batch was gone in three days, and the brewery decided it would make it a once-a-year release. But the press around Wessie continued and the demand for the beer persisted, so they made a second batch in September, which didn’t last long either. This year’s third and final batch of Wessie IPA will be released at Saturday’s Wessie Fest — the city’s attempt to take advantage of the hype.

“People were asking for it,” said Abigail Cioffi, coordinator for the Downtown Westbrook Coalition, which organized the event.

The city had already put together a marketing video starring the snake. The idea this weekend is to get people downtown, so they’ll patronize local businesses, which have offered Wessie specials and put up snake-related signs in recent months to draw in customers.

Since the Wessie Fest planning began, Cioffi’s been crossing her fingers that the snake doesn’t reappear somewhere.

“I think part of it is that the myth has grown so much,” she said. “It’s such a fun thing, and there’s so much you can do with it. We’re more focused on that than Wessie itself.”

That can be the problem with attaching a marketing campaign to a news event.

“There’s always the risk of something happening that you didn’t expect,” said Dave Goldberg, partner at Portland marketing and public relations firm Industrium.

If Wessie were to, say, injure someone, it would turn from “an urban myth, fun, chatty story to not so much,” he said.

There’s also the risk of the news fading and that people simply stop talking about it.

It’s been a while since the latest development in the story of Wessie, but Cioffi isn’t worried about that affecting attendance Saturday. With a “PieThon” baking contest, the presence of the International Crytozoology Museum and photo-ops with a snake, the attraction is that it’s different from any other fall festival.

“I think having something unique will work in our favor,” she said — as long as Wessie doesn’t show up.

Wessie Fest

WHERE: Downtown Westbrook
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
WHAT ELSE: “PieThon” baking contest, “Wessie Toss” cornhole, balloon animals, crafts, photo ops, food trucks and Wessie beer starting at noon
INFO: Facebook

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