Forbidden love. The ever-enduring plotline traverses centuries and cultures, appearing in stories that help tell the story of a place and its people.
Bangor, Maine, is no exception.
I had heard of Lover’s Leap on the Kenduskeag Stream before. I meandered down the winding trail that hugs the banks of the stream last summer and brought home handfuls of wildflowers for my kitchen table, but I never stopped to think about the history behind an outcropping of rock on Valley Avenue.
As a new resident of Bangor, I’ve been finding things to do, places to discover and people to meet to make this city feel a bit more like home. A story about love and loss that probably is familiar to some Bangor residents seemed important for my quest.
The weather started to change this past week, with temperatures rising into the 60s, so I took another walk down the Kenduskeag Stream Trail with the intention of revisiting the tale of Lover’s Leap, which my co-worker Meg Haskell reminded me I’d seen before.
On the trail system there are various information stops with stories about Bangor history, so that’s where I began. Across from Lover’s Leap is one of these information stops. It reads as follows:
“The cliff’s name is born of the legend of how a beautiful Native American maiden fell in love with a handsome young settler, and after she was denied permission to to marry him by her chieftain father, the couple leapt off the cliff hand-in-hand rather than live their lives apart.”
I wondered if anything more could be said about this legend, so I talked to someone who knows Bangor — and knows it well. I contacted writer, historian and Bangor resident Richard Shaw, who told me a bit more about Lover’s Leap.
“The story of star-crossed Penobscot Indian lovers who jumped to their deaths is pure fiction (even the names aren’t Indian), but it’s part of the city’s folklore and lots of fun to read over,” Shaw told me in an email exchange.
Shaw wrote a story himself in the Bangor Daily News in 1975 about the Lover’s Leap legend and the tale of the chief’s daughter Tahalta, also referred to as Tahiti in old postcards featuring the scene, and a young man named Shawano, who her father disapproved of.
The legend reminded me of the historically inaccurate movie adaption of the Pocahontas story — a young Native American woman who falls in love, but the union of which is met with disapproval by her chieftain father.
In reality, the Powhatan woman Pocahontas befriended settler John Smith and assisted the Jamestown colony by bringing them provisions. There is virtually no historical record of a romance between the two. Because of skewed representations of Pocahontas that have prevailed, I wonder if the story of the young Native American woman in the Lover’s Leap legend may have a much more interesting history than this love story tells. Perhaps we’ll never know.
Despite the “pure fiction” of the tale, the story of forbidden love has captured the interests of many, who made areas along the Kenduskeag their own rendezvous point. “A History of Penobscot, Maine,” published in 1882, reads as follows:
“Lines copied from a tree in a beautiful and romantic spot on the banks of the Kenduskeag. Miss … Thy beauty rivals all the classic pride / Of sculptured forms that taste has deified; / Love’s earliest light plays timidly and shy / In the soft lustre of that gentle eye; / Yet have I dared, thou most enchanting maid, / To inscribe thy name within this hallowed shade.”
Another inscription as described in the text reads as follows:
“Miss … Of lovely Sophia’s eyes beware, / Mirth and mischief mingle there; / I with her have careless laugh’d, / Nor fear’d shy beauty’s dangerous shaft; / But pensive now I linger here, / To trace a name forever dear.”
It seems that this place draws out the inner poet, which isn’t surprising, given that the Lover’s Leap legend is a love story.
A poem written by a man called only “H.G.R.” for “The Velocipede” in 1869 describes “[a] tale about this stern old cliff– / A tale of days gone by, of love, and hate, and daring– / Passions that smoulder in the savage breast, / With tenfold vigor, unrestrained by fear / Of social sneer, or educated scorn…”
And yet another poet by the name of Walter Allen Rice wrote about the legend:
“It is down mid the forests of Maine, / Where Kenduskeag still flows thro’ the hills, / From the days when the Indian held reign, / Whence cometh this legend that thrills / The listener’s heart,” his poem reads. Rice uses the names Raven Hair for the young woman and Iron Hand for the young man.
And so, the story lives on, even after this many years. Although this is fiction, what is true is that people have been injured falling from Lover’s Leap, like a man in 2010 who fell down the embankment.
Shaw also said that “newspaper articles, dating back before the Civil War, mention mishaps near Lover’s Leap, including drownings” and a car once went off the leap in 1939.
So now I’m curious. Are there any modern day versions of these Lover’s Leap legends? What stories were you told about Lover’s Leap when you were growing up in Bangor? For readers outside of Bangor, do you have a “Lover’s Leap” of your own?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories. I’d love to hear them!