The Epic Blizzard That Swallowed the Playground of the Rich and Famous

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Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Courtesy of the Boothbay Region Historical Society/National Park Service

During his 1604 voyage to the Gulf of Maine, Samuel de Champlain sailed north along the coastline. Leaving the principal expedition to explore the Maine coast in a smaller boat, Champlain cruised past the many islands, coves, and reefs. While the land he saw from the water was forested with pine and firs, he was impressed by the towering cliffs with summits void of trees. He named it L’Île des Monts Déserts: Island of barren mountains. Three hundred years later, Mount Desert Island was firmly established. For decades it had been the summer home for visitors from cities like Boston and New York, called “rusticators” by the locals. The town of Bar Harbor was overrun with mansions filled with Vanderbilts, Fords, Carnegies, Astors, and Morgans. Opulent parties thrown in parlors and aboard yachts commanded their social calendars.

Among the wealthy summer residents were Ernesto Fabbri and his brother, Alessandro, both born and raised in Manhattan with moneyed family connections in Italy. Ernesto, who was described as a linguist and world traveler, had married Edith Shepard, the great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. As 1900 brought the country into a new century the couple was busy building Buonriposo, a cottage in Bar Harbor that could claim status as an Italian villa. This was on Eden Street, five miles north of the towering rock promontory named Otter Cliffs that jutted out over the Atlantic Ocean and had once inspired Champlain.

The unmarried Alessandro spent his summers at Buonriposo with his brother and Edith. More scientist than playboy, his passion was wireless telegraphy, the transmission of telegraph signals using radio waves. And there was no better place for radio transmission than at Otter Cliffs. When Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, gossip soon made its way into Maine newspapers that German spies were afoot in the state. With those invisible radio waves in the skies over Bar Harbor, suspicion fell on the Fabbri brothers, with that foreign-sounding name, despite their attempts to quell what they saw as a ridiculous accusation.

Read more at The Daily Beast.