Columbia Falls, Maine: Lobster boat engines rumble to life in quiet coves. Lumberjacks trudge deep into the woods. Farmers tend expanses of wild blueberries. Maine’s Down East region is where the sunlight first kisses a U.S. state’s soil each day, where the vast wilderness and ocean meet in one of the last places on the East Coast unspoiled by development.
Which makes it a striking backdrop to one family’s bold vision for the region: a flagpole jutting upward from the woodlands toward spacious skies — the tallest one ever, reaching higher than the Empire State Building. And atop it? A massive American flag bigger than a football field, visible from miles away on a clear day.
To promoters, the $1 billion project, funded in part by donations, would unite people of all political stripes and remind them of shared values in an era of national polarization. Here’s how Morrill Worcester, founder of Worcester Wreath, tells it: “We want to bring Americans together, remind them of the centuries of sacrifice made to protect our freedom, and unite a divided America.”
So far, the project — called the Flagpole of Freedom Park — has done precisely the opposite. In Columbia Falls, population 485, the place closest to the patch of land where the pole would rise, the debate has laid bare community and cultural flashpoints.
Morrill Worcester envisions a village with living history museums telling the country’s story through veterans’ eyes. There would be a 4,000-seat auditorium, restaurants and monument walls with the name of every deceased veteran dating to the Revolution. That’s about 24 million names. Slick presentations showed what amounted to a patriotic theme park, replete with gondolas to ferry visitors around.
“This is the last wilderness on the East Coast,” says Marie Emerson, whose husband, Dell, is a beloved native son, a longtime blueberry farmer and university research farm manager.