In Episode 298 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the shores of Lake Memphremagog in Newport, Vermont, searching for Little Maggie, the most photographed person in northern Vermont in the early 1900s. This wandering vagabond wore men’s clothes, she fished the lake all day long, and smoked a pipe like she was a chimney. This memorable eccentric always found what she needed. Maybe there’s a lesson there?
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Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Theme Music by: John Judd
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*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
JEFF: It’s a great spring day to be here by Lake Memphremagog, the air is warming up, the sun is shine…. Ray… what are you doing?
RAY: Hold on… just one more.
[CAMERA CLICK ON PHONE]
JEFF: Another Ray at the lake selfie? Really?
RAY: We’re so close to the Canadian border I wanted to capture both countries.
JEFF: Do you ever worry we’re too obsessed with pictures of ourselves in today’s culture? Selfies? Wait staff at restaurants need to slow down their service and take pictures of you with your meal. Are we too vain?
RAY: Probably. But what can you do when we all have such great cameras with filters on us at all times?
JEFF: Good point.
RAY: I’m guessing we didn’t come to Newport, Vermont, just to take selfies.
JEFF: No. We came to Newport to take a picture of a pipe-smoking, fishing-woman, don’t-give-a-hoot eccentric who was the most photographed person in Newport in the early 1900s. We’re searching for Little Maggie.
JEFF: Hey, I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, and welcome to Episode 298 of the New England Legends podcast. Think of us as your townie buddies taking you on a tour of all things weird.
JEFF: That we are. Twice each week now, we’re on the hunt for ghosts, monsters, eccentrics, roadside oddities, and strange history that makes New England like no other place. We’re glad you’re with us. Please click the subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts, check out our super-secret New England Legends Facebook group….
RAY: That’s NOT a well-kept secret…
JEFF: It’s not. And tell a few friends about us. It’s how you can help us grow and more people can share their story leads.
RAY: Before we go searching for Little Maggie in Newport, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
JEFF: Ray, the weather is getting warmer.
RAY: It sure is. The other day it was downright hot! Summer is coming.
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RAY: That’s one of my favorites. Yes, it actually tastes like root beer! It’s got all natural flavors like Sarsaparilla, Vanilla, Spearmint, Licorice, Root Beer Extract and more! Here in New England you know how the mornings can be 40 degrees and the afternoons can be 80?
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RAY: So Little Maggie was the most photographed woman in Newport?
JEFF: She was. An eccentric vagabond who wore men’s clothes, loved to fish, loved to smoke, and loved to get her picture taken. She was a roamer, an adventurer! Always moving all of her 91 years.
RAY: We’ve covered plenty of stories about transient vagabonds before.
JEFF: We have. From Leatherman to Cling Clang, The Darn Man, and the Barefoot Farmer, just to name a few.
RAY: I don’t think we’ve ever covered the story of a woman vagabond.
JEFF: We have not. It’s just not as common. Which makes Little Maggie all the more interesting. So let’s head back to 1855 and meet her.
RAY: It’s early May of 1855 in the small town of Bolton, Quebec. We’re less than a mile from the shores of Lake Memphremagog in southern Canada, and we’re standing outside the home of Fred and Mary Little, where they have their hands full. They’re planning to move about 30 miles southwest to the town of East Berkshire, Vermont, and their 12-year-old daughter Maggie, can’t seem to focus on helping to pack up the family wagon.
JEFF: Young Maggie Little is always heading out by the lake looking for adventures. She spends hours alone in the woods checking out everything there is to check out, and she’s often home late for dinner.
[HORSE AND WAGON ROLLING]
JEFF: Still, the Little Family eventually get their wagon and belongings down to their new home in East Berkshire, Vermont.
RAY: But young Maggie can’t seem to find it in her to settle in this new area. She was born with wanderlust. She finds herself walking further and further from her new home, coming home less and less until one day, she just keeps walking.
JEFF: The world is a dangerous place for anybody, but especially a young girl. But Maggie is resourceful, and most importantly… she’s kind. A stranger is just a friend she hasn’t met yet.
RAY: Maggie Little is a small kid, too. At barely 5 feet tall, she’s shorter than most. Though her name is Maggie Little, those who meet her often refer to her as Little Maggie. And though she’s always wandering from place-to-place, she’s NOT looking for any handouts.
RAY: She can chop through a cord of firewood faster than most men. In exchange she may get a few dollars, some meals, or a place to stay. But not for too long, because pretty soon she’s moving on again looking for the next adventure.
JEFF: Maggie’s favorite way to feed herself is by fishing.
[DROP OF WATER/LIGHT SPLASH]
JEFF: She’ll grab a can of worms and spend hours fishing the shores of Lake Memphremagog.
[CUTTING GUTS SOUNDS]
JEFF: She cleans the fish herself…
[KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK]
JEFF: Then tries to sell them door-to-door.
RAY: As decades pass, Maggie has become a fixture in northern Vermont towns. She sticks out, too. She always wears a conservative dress over her legs, but she’ll wear a men’s coat and hat up top. And around her head you’ll often find a cloud of smoke.
JEFF: Little Maggie smokes a pipe… A LOT. She’s never without it. When she’s offering to take on odd jobs for people she’ll work for money, a place to sleep, food, or tobacco for her pipe.
RAY: By the turn of the century, everyone knows Maggie. The eccentric fisher-woman isn’t afraid to be out there on the water in the rain. He favorite fishing spot is the Canadian Pacific railway bridge. All the while smoking away at her pipe and thinking about her next adventure.
JEFF: When the jones hit for more tobacco, she has no problem walking up to other pipe smokers and pretending she’s fresh out, so she asks to bum some tobacco.
RAY: It’s the smoker’s code. You have to lend to other smokers because one day it will be YOU who is out.
JEFF: Right. Still, Maggie is getting on in years. By this time, her mother has moved to Newport, Vermont, so Maggie finds herself in town plenty visiting. Considering she does stick out with her funny hats, men’s jackets, and the pipe, people start asking if they can photograph her.
[OLD-TIME PHOTO BULB POP]
JEFF: She agrees. She’s friendly enough. And she likes the attention.
RAY: Soon more people are asking to take her photograph. Portable cameras have been around for almost 20 years now, and they keep getting better, smaller, and cheaper. And being so close to this beautiful lake, lots of people have cameras who visit here. With so many people asking for her photo… Maggie gets an idea.
RAY: She could charge for her photo!
JEFF: Will people pay for that?
RAY: She’s not asking much. Fill her pipe for her. Maybe a few coins. Buy her lunch. Just something. And sure enough, people are willing to pay it. She sticks out, and people want to remember her.
JEFF: Maggie even graces the cover of a local postcard. She’s a local celebrity in every way.
JEFF: And all the while people continue to take her picture while she’s sports her various hats, or while she’s fishing.
RAY: With her short hair and men’s coats and shirts, looking unconventional in every way, you’d think Maggie would be more open minded, but in her later years when women started wearing pants, she’d scoff at the younger girls who took to this new fashion trend.
JEFF: It’s 1930. Maggie is now living in the city poor farm. But even in her late 80s, she still makes her way into Newport to sit and chat with anyone who passes by. And…
JEFF: People still ask to get her picture taken.
RAY: Even Newport’s mayor once asked to get his photo taken with Little Maggie. She’d never smiled so wide for a picture. And she tells that story to anyone who cares to hear it. And she tells it to a few who don’t care to hear it again
JEFF: The thing about Little Maggie is that she never lost faith that she would get what she needed. Maybe not everything she wanted. But she got what she needed. She found shelter, food, clothing, God provided the fish on the good days, and passers-by provided the tobacco on better days. (PAUSE) It’s February of 1934 when Maggie Little passes away. She was 91 years old. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: Quoting the last paragraph of her obituary from the February 12th, 1934, St. Johnsbury Republican newspaper, Quote “Little Maggie has gone on one more adventure, her last one, and one wonders if she will be content to stay put when she has been led through the pearly gates, or if after a while she will still hanker to wander somewhere else.”
JEFF: Every time we cover these stories of these vagabonds I wish we lived in a time where they were still around. When I was a kid there was a woman who often lurked around Sandy Hook town center looking for handouts, or just hanging around. Everyone knew her by name. Sure, she was off, but she was memorable.
RAY: That’s what eccentrics do. They stick out. We had someone like that where I grew up in East Brookfield, Mass.
JEFF: We just don’t see them around like we used to. What I love about Little Maggie’s story is that it’s a reminder that maybe we don’t NEED as much as we think. Like, if we could lower the bar a little… or a lot, maybe we’d al be a lot happier. And if that makes us eccentric and we stand out, so be it.
RAY: Move over here, Jeff. One more selfie by the lake in Newport before we go.
JEFF: And that brings us to After the Legend where we take a longer look at this week’s story and sometimes get distracted…
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If you’ve got a local story we simply MUST hear, please reach out to us anytime through our Web site. Most of our story leads come from you! We appreciate that we’re a community of legend seekers and we’re glad to be riding with you. Please also consider posting a review for us. You are how we grow and continue to find new stories to share with you twice each week.
We’d like to thank our sponsor Nuwati Herbals. Thank you to our patreon patrons, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.