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“This is a Robbery”: Notorious Art Thief Got His Start in Sullivan

Myles Connor Jr. pictured in “This Is a Robbery.” Netflix.

Over fifty years ago, Myles Connor Jr., rock ‘n’ roll singer turned legendary outlaw and suspect in one of the largest art heists of all time, made his first big move in Sullivan, Maine.

It was July of 1965, and Connor was visiting family in Sullivan where he had spent many summers growing up. While eating dinner at his granduncle’s house, Connor heard his relatives talking about an elderly lady who had died, leaving everything to children she had apparently despised. Connor had begun to develop an interest in art and antiques, and he went to the dead woman’s house to take a look. He was carrying a grandfather clock out to his car when sheriff’s Deputy Hank Hosking pulled into the driveway. After a confrontation in which Connor fired a couple shots at the deputy, who also worked as a janitor at Sumner Memorial High School, Connor drove off only to be apprehended a short distance away on Route 1 and taken to the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth.

Back in Massachusetts, Connor had left his apartment full of high-quality antiques, including a silver plate made by Paul Revere that had been stolen from Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. Connor has said that he felt that it was highly important that he get back to Massachusetts quickly as he was concerned that people he knew would help themselves to the antiques while he was held up in Maine. With Connor desperate to escape, his small scuffle in Sullivan turned into the site of his first major criminal incident—one that involved breaking out of jail with a gun carved out of soap and blackened with shoe polish, hiding for two days in the attic of the Ellsworth Public Library, and a manhunt throughout the town of Hancock.

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Myles Connor is brought into a Dedham courthouse on July 9, 1985. Netflix.

Myles J. Connor Jr. grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Myles Joseph Connor, a police officer, and Lucy Johnson Connor. Connor’s maternal grandfather was from Sullivan, and Connor has said that as a child he spent almost every summer visiting family in Sullivan. The Connors often stayed in the Johnson cottage just east of Tunk Lake Road.

A budding young musician, Connor gained attention in the early 1960s as the leader of a Boston-area rock band called Myles and the Wild Ones. His daring jailbreak in 1965 at the age of 22 was just the beginning of a long career of law-breaking. Over the years, Connor has been accused of theft, assault, drug trafficking, shooting a police officer, and murdering two Boston women, the last of which he was ultimately acquitted. In 2010, he published a memoir, The Art of the Heist: Confessions of a Master Thief, which tells an unapologetic story of his life of crime.

Lately, Connor was featured in This is a Robbery, a four-part documentary series that premiered on Netflix on April 7, 2021 and centers around the infamous 1990 burglary at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The series breaks down the heist in which art collectively worth $500 million went missing, including works by Rembrandt, Manet, and Vermeer. The art remains missing 31 years later, and no one was ever arrested for the crime.

Although Connor was in prison for drug trafficking at the time of the robbery, the FBI considered him a prime suspect. Connor has claimed in various interviews and published works that he was involved in the planning of the heist but that it was carried out by associates of his who have now since died. He is also said to have phoned the police himself after the Gardner robbery to claim that he had nothing to do with it.

 

The Connors often stayed in the Johnson cottage just east of Tunk Lake Road in East Sullivan. The cottage was built in 1925 by Clarissa (Johnson) Sutherland as a summer camp for children on the land of her parents, Herbert & Lelia (Clark) Johnson. Herbert Johnson’s nephew, Charles Johnson, was Myles Connor Jr.’s grandfather. The cottage still stands today. Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society.

Over his lifetime, Connor has spent over two decades in prison and says he has been part of over 30 art heists, including many that authorities know very little about. In one of his most famous heists, Connor stole and then returned the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s Rembrandt in exchange for a lighter prison sentence. In This is a Robbery, Connor’s defense attorney, Martin Leppo, says that stealing from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was always on Connor’s “bucket list.”

“Depends on who you ask but, in general, I’m known as an art thief,” Connor shares in the series. “And, some people consider me the biggest art thief in this country because I’ve robbed a number of museums. But, then again, I was a rock and roll guy.”

 

You can watch This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist on Netflix.

Myles Connor in the news: Infamous art thief revisits criminal past in Ellsworth, Bangor Daily News, 2014.

“Rock ‘n’ roll” outlaw Myles Connor returning to Ellsworth, the Ellsworth American, 2017.

Alice Turner Curtis, Sullivan-born Author

Alice Turner was born on September 8, 1860, the youngest child of John and Susan Speare Staples Turner of Sullivan, ME. John, a sail maker, was employed across from their home in Sullivan Harbor on what is sometimes called Little Sail Island.

Alice had two sisters—Anna S. who was twelve years older than she, and Ella F., who was eleven years older. Ella, who taught school in Ashland, Massachusetts, very much wanted to see Alice receive a good education. In a letter to Lelia Clarke Johnson prior to the publication of Johnson’s history “Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760,” Alice wrote, “When I was 12… (I) attended a well-known girls’ school,” and went on to say that 18 she became a file clerk for the Youth’s Companion (a popular magazine for young people). She wrote for The Boston Traveller, became Literary Editor of that newspaper, and was on the Editorial Staff of The Youth’s Companion for seventeen years.

In 1885, Alice married Irving Curtis, who was originally from Maine. In the 1900 federal census, Irving, age 63; Alice, age 36; Alice’s mother Susan, age 76; and a female servant were living in Boston. Irving’s occupation is listed as “capitalist.” Alice did not list an occupation, but she was always writing.

Mrs. Curtis is best known for her popular “Little Maid Series,” stories of happenings in different places during colonial times with young girls as the heroines. The series encompasses twenty-four books, including Little Maid of Old Maine, Little Maid of Massachusetts Colony, and Little Maid of Old Virginia. Mrs. Curtis also wrote a series covering the Civil war, called “The Yankee Girl Series,” and other volumes. She published over sixty books total.

 In December of 1953, Mrs. Curtis sent $25.00 to the Frenchman’s Bay Library accompanied by a new edition of her “Little Maid” Series. She died in 1958 at the age of 97 and is buried beside her husband in Skowhegan. Her parents and a brother who died young are buried in York Hill Cemetery in Sullivan.

The Turner House in Sullivan Harbor.

“Little Maid” Books at the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society.

The First Sawmill in Sullivan

One of the original proprietors of Sullivan was John Bean of York who came with family members before 1760 to settle here. As an original proprietor, he was granted 200 acres, land around Morancy Pond and land at Waukeag Neck (Sorrento). His children were Samuel, who married Elizabeth Johnson, James, who married Lucy Preble, John, who married Miriam Donnell, Joanna, Abigail, who married Daniel Sullivan, and Abitha. 

In 1822, Samuel and James, both in their seventies, signed affidavits as to the persons and history of the mill (Registry of Deeds, Bk. 43, page 319). In James’s affidavit, he states that he “came to Sullivan in the year 1763, and know(s) that the saw mill on Flanders Stream in Sullivan was built in 1766 by (my father) John Bean, Samuel Bean Jabes, Paul and Josiah Simpson, and Daniel Sullivan, proprietors claiming under a grant from the Province of Massachusetts.”

Samuel’s testimony reveals that the mill was rebuilt in 1783, and again in 1799. His property, in 1803, lay to the west of Flanders Stream.. The depositions were taken as requested by Ebenezer Bragdon, James Bragdon, Joshua Dyer, Ephraim Dyer, Stephen Johnson, Benjamin Johnson, John Bragdon and Jotham Bragdon,”… to be preserved in perpetual remembrance of the thing.” 

The Story of Reverend William E. Foy

Reverend William Ellis Foy(e) was one of the least known yet most significant figures in American religious history to live in Hancock County.

William E. Foy was born a free Black in Belgrade, Maine to Joseph and Elizabeth Foy around 1819. Although Maine was a “free” state and there were few Blacks and enslaved people, Maine still had connections to the slave-trade and existent racism.

Foy married about 1835 and may have had two children with his wife, Ann. The couple moved to Boston. An important figure in the Millerite Movement in the 1830s and 1840s, Foy experienced several visions concerning the second coming of Christ. He recounted his visions and preached the Millerite gospel throughout New England. One audience member, who went on to receive and recount similar visions to those Foy described, was Ellen Hammond—later, Ellen White—a founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

After the predicted second coming of Christ did not occur, Foy stayed in the ministry and became a Free Will Baptist Clergyman in New Bedford, MA. Sometime prior to 1850, his wife, Ann, died.

Foy married Caroline T. Griffin of Gardiner in 1851, and they had two children, Orrin in 1852 and Laura in 1856. Caroline died, leaving Foy with three young children. Foy moved to Burnham, a town in Waldo County. In the 1860 Federal Census, William E. Foy (age 37) was living in Burnham with three children and his mother, Betsy.

Not long after, according to the Island of Mount Desert Register, “Rev. William E. Fay (spelling!), a colored evangelist, organized a Christian Church of 25 members at Otter Creek, Mount Desert. A few years later, Rev. Andrew Gray came to Otter Creek and wrought a great deal of good.”

Rev. William E. Foy moved to Plantation #7, which is just east of the Town of Sullivan and north of Gouldsboro. (Plantation #7 was later annexed to Sullivan in 1895.) He purchased property from William Johnson on the north side of the Public Road and another small plot of land from Isaac Bunker on the south side of the Public Road.

While residing in Plantation #7, William E. Foy built a house for himself and his new wife, Percentia W. Rose, a cook and housekeeper from Portland. Lelia Johnson, a local historian and author of Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760 (1953) describes “Elder William E. Foy” as an “esteemed and beloved” preacher who held meetings in the local hall and schoolhouses.

Foy is buried in Birch Tree Cemetery on Tunk Lake Road in East Sullivan, just down the road from his home. He is buried next to his daughter Laura (d. 1863) and Percentia (d. December 24, 1908). His son Orrin (d. 1920), a fisherman, lived on an island off Schoodic Point before moving to Milbridge and marrying Bessie Roberts. Orrin and Bessie had many children.

William Foy’s tombstone is inscribed with:

I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up
For me a crown of righteousness.

This summary draws upon genealogy work by Jeanne Edwards and Robert Potter at the Sullivan–Sorrento Historical Society.

For additional reading, see:
“The William Foy Story” by Mark Silk, published in Chebacco: The Magazine of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society, 2019.
The Unknown Prophet, Revised and Updated by Delbert W. Baker.

This portrait is believed to be of Orrin Foy, William Foy’s son.

William E. Foy’s gravestone and Birch Tree Cemetery in East Sullivan.

The Swiss Chalet and the Manor

In 1886, Clyde Hunt and some associates formed the Sullivan Harbor Land Company. They purchased 500 acres of land in Sullivan Harbor, hoping to sell property and make a good profit. In 1887-1888, they had built the Swiss Chalet Restaurant to attract summer people from Bar Harbor to Sullivan. Advertizing brochures contained information on the “Swiss waitresses in costume” and “the flotilla of Venetian sail boats always in readiness for guests.”

Realizing that there also needed to be a lodge for overnight stays, the Land Company built the Manor Inn in 1889, “in the style of an old English Inn.” Some guests were enticed by the promise of excellent hunting and fishing in nearby lakes. In 1894, Gov. H.A. Stearns of Rhode Island, who was staying at the Manor Inn, experienced “unparalled success fishing at Tunk Pond, 95 black bass was the result of his toil” as reported in the Bar Harbor Record of July 18, 1894. 

In 1895, the Sullivan Harbor Land Company was in financial trouble. Dwight Braman took over the mortgage for the buildings and acquired the property by foreclosure. He did have trees cut on his woodlots. Even after his death in 1929, Mrs. Braman continued to summer at the Inn.

In 1937, it was announced that the Inn would no longer be open. Mrs. Braman sold the property in 1951. She died at her home in Newburgh, New York in 1955.

A video of the demolition in 2020 can be seen at https://youtu.be/5SnaTg2Nap4?t=194.

 

Upcoming Programs – Announcements & Survey

Sunrise on New Year’s Day from Pigeon Hill in Steuben. Did you know there was a silver mine on Pigeon Hill in the 1800s?

Happy new year!

At the Society, we are very excited to be planning some new programs in the coming months. These will be held virtually for the time being and in-person as soon as we are able to do so safely. As we plan and prepare our upcoming schedule, we would very much like your input! 

You can complete our short survey here. Thank you for your time and for your support of SSHS. We hope to see you soon!

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If you have any questions or comments, please email info@sullivansorrentohistory.org or call Gary Edwards, SSHS President at 207-422-0995.

Backyard Archeology Project Uncovers Assortment of Historic Artifacts

Seamus Schunk, 10, first spotted something unusual and distinctly metallic protruding from the ground in his backyard in April. He returned with a spade and started to dig, finding an old metal arrowhead. He quickly realized that there was an outline in stones on the ground and explored the whole area.

Over the following weeks, Seamus uncovered an assortment of artifacts, including parts to a cast-iron stove, an oil lamp, ball hitch, and various tools. One day, he used a metal detector, noted where it signaled, and unearthed more treasures! Upon making the discovery, Seamus recalls rushing into the house with excitement; his parents, who had been making dinner, went outside expecting just a couple pieces of rusted metal—but they were quite surprised at the things he had found!

 For Seamus, who homeschools, the archaeology project became a big unit study. He and his parents, Tim and Brandi, worked to identify the artifacts through communication with the historical society and their own research. When Seamus unearthed a nearly intact glass bead necklace, they concentrated on learning more about glass bead necklaces, looking for the time period that they were made and most fashionable. On some items, they found names and inscriptions that led them to businesses to investigate for further context.

 Seamus uncovered the vast majority of the artifacts within one area roughly 6 feet by 8 feet wide, and when he discovered a complete glass inkwell, he had to wonder: why would someone throw that out? If there had been a structure there, the wide selection of tools and various pieces of melted metal and charred wood suggest the possibility of a shed that burned down.

 As Seamus and his parents dove deeper into the history of the place, they added the information that they could find about the property and its prior owners to the puzzle. Documents show that their house was either built in 1830 or 1880, depending on which digit is an error. From their neighbors, they learned that their house may have once been combined with a second house on the foundation of what is now a third house—and an early owner of the parcel may have run the quarry—before the houses split, moved, and settled where they are now.

 For Seamus, the best part of the project is the joy of discovering new pieces. He spent all of his free time digging until fire ants took over the area in full force, and he says that he plans to start again as long as the ants aren’t there come spring. Further research about the property may be able to uncover a more complete picture of the people who lived there centuries before. In the meantime, the story behind the artifacts remains a mystery—and a reminder to keep our eyes open to other stories that may be lurking right under our noses just waiting to be uncovered.

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If you are looking to uncover your own pieces of local history, the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society is here to help. We are currently open by appointment only, and you can reach us at (207) 422-0995 or info@sullivansorrentohistory.org.