The address of 826 High Street in Bath, Maine has held significant meaning for the Bath community for nearly 120 years. The first Morse High School, originally built in 1904 and then rebuilt in 1928 at the same site after a fire, was home to many students throughout the years and serves as a point of nostalgia still today for the ever-impressive, still growing, Morse High School Alumni Association. Today, however, the students who will become members of that Alumni Association will have come from a new address, creating new memories and new traditions.
In February of 2021, the new Morse High School opened its doors to students ending a chapter and starting anew. Months later, the Morse High School class of 2022 hosted a community yard sale at 826 High Street, to benefit each class’s funds after not being able to hold fundraising events during the pandemic. The yard sale featured many of the items that remained at the old high school.
Roo Dunn, Bath resident and Ward 4 representative on Bath’s City Council, was there to support the students at the sale. While touring the building and scanning the artifacts, Dunn came across two unassuming items, yet immediately recognized their significance.
“Amongst over-scaled library tables and biology lab glass, I found Tamara Lilly’s 1984 poem and accompanying letter to Pat Montgomery at the back of a tool crib, backstage in the old Montgomery Theater.”, said Dunn.
Dunn, who knew the author of the poem personally, spared these items a dumpster fate, purchasing and preserving them.
Tamara Lilly was a sophomore at the old Morse High School in 1984. She frequented the stage of the old Montgomery Theatre in musicals, plays, and the classic Morse High School Bazaar variety show (MoHiBa). “I gave the poem, in May of 1984, as a gift to Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery at the cast party for my first non-MoHiBa show at Morse.” Lilly said, “The poem was written to describe the feelings I had approaching the backstage door during the school day.”
The backstage door, with its worn brass knob, was the portal to the Montgomery Theatre stage for hundreds of Morse High performers for many years. Named for the dynamic duo who led Morse thespians as artistic director and tech director from the 70’s into the 90’s, Priscilla and J. Pat Montgomery, commonly and affectionately referred to as “the M’s”.
It’s safe to say the husband and wife left an impression on not only their students, but the building itself. Lilly explains, “The poem, which I gave them in a little frame, hung in a theater memorabilia room in their house (just across the street from the old high school) through my graduation in 1986 and beyond. At some point, perhaps when Mr. M moved from Maine after his wife's passing in the 90's, the framed poem must have been moved across to the high school and affixed to the inside of that same stage door. And there it stayed for nearly 30 years.”.
With the opening of the new Morse High School, many wondered how tradition could continue so much “new”. But today, the stage door poem resides at the new Montgomery Theatre at 826 Shipbuilder Drive. And thanks to Ms. Lilly and Mr. Dunn, a new generation of Morse Alumni will walk onto the stage at the theater, with the comfort of tradition that has now spanned several decades and multiple institutions. Lilly herself is grateful to see the timeworn piece at its new home. “I'm so pleased that it was saved and that the little piece of history, relating to an experience shared with hundreds of Morse High thespians over several decades, will reside at the new school, in the new theater space honoring both the M's and theater at the old school.”
As I walk toward the stage door
And hear the nervous murmur of
Cast members hurriedly dressing,
The director, in another room,
Bellowing a “last call for make-up!”
Bang! A dropped flat,
Then a resounding ripple of laughter
Followed by the stage manager’s
“Shhh - the house is open.”
The whisper of a frantic crew member –
“Where’s the jello for Act One?!”
I swallow, and
Search my mind,
Checking hazy lines
Or forgotten props.
My arms tingle and
I take deep breaths and smile
With a tensely excited rush
As I put my hand on the
Cold knob and turn.
It is locked –
And I continue on to class.
- T. Lilly