The Star-Herald

Imagining an exotic name to market Presque Isle

In my research surrounding the origins of Presque Isle’s name, I came across a troubling literary artifact: a 1984 off-Broadway play called “Presque Isle,” written by American author Joyce Carol Oates.

The play, which is set on a charming island off the coast of Maine called Presque Isle, has since been largely forgotten by history, and for good reason. The New York Times called the play “insufferable,” “tiresome,” “amateurish” and “cliché-ridden.”

The debut of Oates’ play seemed to coincide with the declining population and tourism trends in and around Presque Isle. Just as nobody wants to visit a desolate island where a mother and daughter bicker incessantly about their failed romances, which loosely captures the premise of Oates’ unpopular play, contemporary tourists can no longer be fooled into believing that we occupy an exotic island brimming with buttered lobster and majestic lighthouses. 

“Presque,” you may already know, means “almost.” We’re just a few waterways and an Eiffel Tower short of delivering the French-inspired island Oates imagined.

What we lack in islands, we can make up for with a sprinkle of ingenuity. A rebranding could be the 21st-century launch Presque Isle needs. 

Just recently our Canadian neighbors decided to rename their town of Asbestos, garnering international attention. This could prove to be a boon for Presque Isle as well, because the name Asbestos is now up for grabs.

If we decide against Asbestos, my next suggestion would be to adopt one of our nation’s most successful suffixes: Presqueville, Presquehattan, or Presque Angeles. Since “isle” proved to be an unsuccessful appropriation, perhaps we could explore Presque Mountain, in reference to the incline on State Street, which can really boost one’s heart rate on an afternoon walk. 

In researching the world’s most popular travel destinations, it seems music festivals and spelunking are drawing big crowds. Presque Ibiza (nearly Ibiza) could be a nod to the Mediterranean island where young ne’er-do-wells go to dance. We could call our town Presque Underwater Cave, in an attempt to attract those curious cave enthusiasts. By certain measures, we are almost an underwater cave, in the same way that we’re almost an island.

My more provincial side imagines Presque Village being a popular option, conjuring images of freshly-baked-cookie steam filling Main Street, and Santa Claus casually riding his sleigh through the McDonald’s drive-through, handing little peppermint candy canes to bustling crowds of children. 

From a public relations standpoint, the soundest route might be to leverage our moose population to the town’s advantage, naming the town Moose Harbor. Having “harbor” in the name worked quite well for Bar Harbor, and I think tourists would be thrilled at the idea of cruise ships coming and going, all overflowing with cheerful moose on holiday. It could also be advantageous to construct a 200-foot moose statue to replace the old “Welcome to Presque Isle” sign on Route 1. 

We could raise a real moose from infancy in the basement of city hall, and broadcast its life via livestream for the whole world to watch, similar to the Truman Show, but with a moose. We have to think outside the box.

My last suggestion is perhaps the most pragmatic. There’s a popular trend to discover what’s called Easter Eggs, or hidden things in life that one discovers to much excitement, like a fairy garden in a public park. To capture the spirit of this, we could rename our town Unorganized Territory, basically turning off the lights on Presque Isle. People driving north toward Caribou expecting to pass through farmland would suddenly find themselves passing through Unorganized Territory,  the modest yet seemly village formerly known as Presque Isle. We’d become the darlings of the Internet and we’d secure our spot in history alongside Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and Chicken Bristle, Illinois.

Presque Isle should have convened in 1984, the day after that New York Times review was published, and determined a new name. In delaying 36 years, we’ve put our community at great risk. Eventually it will just be Town Manager Martin Puckett in his office in city hall, discovering that he is the last remaining Islander, and the rest of the town has migrated to the fertile shores of Caribou, a town that clearly knows how to select a proper name.

Griffin Goins lives and works in Presque Isle. 

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