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The Legend of Norumbega

I was reading Milton’s Paradise Lost, motivated by the guilty sense that I hadn’t read much but pop detective books lately, when to my surprise I encountered the name, “Norumbega,” which a footnote said was a place in New England that showed up on ancient maps. 

Wikipedia says Norumbega “is a legendary settlement in northeastern North America which appeared on many early maps from the 1500s until American colonization. The houses were said to have pillars of gold and the inhabitants carried quarts of pearls on their heads.”

It adds that Bangor, Maine, embraced the legend in the nineteenth century, naming its municipal hall "Norumbega Hall," and in 1886 inventor Joseph Barker Stearns built a mansion named "Norumbega Castle," in Camden, Maine.

So how did our Norumbega get it’s name? I asked City Historian Steve Baker, who poked around a bit and found that around 1913 the area was owned by three men, who named it Norumbega Heights. The main man of the three was apparently a Harry Nelson Mabery, from Massachusetts.

So maybe, Steve speculated, since Massachusetts is near Maine, perhaps Mabery vacationed in Maine and was familiar with the name and the legend.

Sounds like a pretty good guess to me. 

- Brad Haugaard 

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