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Shannon Bryan

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Posted: May 4, 2015

See parts of Portland you never knew existed: Maine Historical Society’s Magical History Tour

Written by: Shannon Bryan
Courtesy of Maine Historical Society and Dani Fazio

Courtesy of Maine Historical Society and Dani Fazio

Portland has secrets.

Our fair city might be small compared to others down the coast, and it might be young compared to others across the Atlantic, but Portland still has a colorful past.

And while we’d all like to think we know Portland so well – all its stories, all its nooks and crannies – there are pieces of this city we didn’t even know existed.

Some of those secret places – and the history that goes along with them – will be open to the public on Saturday during the Maine Historical Society’s Magical History Tour.

The self-guided tour includes 12 rarely seen or long-forgotten-about spaces within the Portland city limits.

“Some are private homes, some are historic buildings that aren’t usually open. And some are part of other historic buildings – the spaces you don’t usually get to see,” said Nan Cumming, director of institutional advancement at Maine Historical society. “And some are the kinds of places you walk by every day and say, ‘I wonder what’s in there.'”

Now you’ll get to find out.

So where are all these mysterious places? Cumming was tight-lipped about specifics (understandably not wanting to give away the surprise) but she did offer a few hints: “There are several places where you can see outstanding views of Portland and others where you’ll be under ground,” she said. “Two of the sites have something in common with the Titanic.”

Interest piqued? Of course it is.

The 12 locations will first be revealed the night before the tour, during the sold-out Mr. Longfellow’s Cocktail Party on Friday (which is aptly held at the brand new Press Hotel – a building with it’s own place in Portland history). But not to worry if you didn’t get tickets to the cocktail party, the Magical History Tour is a separate event – and those secret locations will be revealed to you, too.

Saturday’s tourgoers will get a detailed guide that outlines each stop, including directions and parking options (some are walking distance from each other, but some will require a bike or car). And there will be docents at each location to tell you more about the space and answer questions. But until then, we’ll just have to let our imaginations fill in the blanks.

Some Magical History Tour hints

Organizers are hoping the tour will help people know Portland even better.

“I just love the notion of people understanding their community better,” said Cumming. “We wanted a fundraiser that would engage people of all ages, but also something that would really speak to our mission and bring people into historic places.”

The 12 stops on this tour were narrowed down from a starting list of over 50, which means the chosen dozen must be pretty special. And with all this renovating going on in town, Cumming noted, this might be your last chance to see some of them.

Tickets for the Magical History Tour cost $35 for adults ($25 for Maine Historical Society members) and $5 for kids under 18. And while a limited number of tickets will be available the day of the event, you’re encouraged to purchase them in advance.

And after seeing and exploring some or all of the 12 locations, you’ll doubtless feel even more connected to our little city (and know even more cool local history that you can share at dinner parties). But don’t think you’ll have seen everything.

Portland has more secrets than that.

Magical History Tour

WHEN: Any time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Start at Maine Historical Society’s Brown Library at 485 Congress Street in Portland, located next door to the Wadsworth-Longfellow House
HOW MUCH: $35 for adults ($25 for Maine Historical Society members) and $5 for kids under 18. Buy online at, by calling the Maine Historical Society at 207-774-1822 ext. 216 or stop in the MHS store at 489 Congress Street in Portland. Kids are welcome and about half the locations are wheelchair accessible.

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