FREEPORT — It was a bad week for town slogans in Vacationland.
On June 17 and 18, two southern Maine towns announced changes to their slogans, and each caused a stir.
When Portland adopted its new slogan, “Yes. Life Is Good Here,” many felt the words rung hollow. In Freeport, where the words “Birthplace of the State Of Maine” had rung false, the Town Council voted to ditch the motto.
Now, a committee of three Freeport councilors will begin searching for a new motto to replace the legendary claim that the Daughters of the American Revolution recently disavowed.
But what’s in a motto? What purpose do they serve? Are they even necessary? In the coastal towns north of Portland, there’s a surprising range of answers and approaches.
On June 19, the day after the Town Council’s vote in Freeport, word traveled quickly. The story appeared in news outlets throughout Maine and around the country, on websites as far away as Columbus, Ind., and San Francisco.
The motto, “The Birthplace of the State of Maine,” still adorns public works vehicles, police officers’ uniforms and the town’s website. And the plaque that gave rise to the birthplace myth is still firmly planted in the soil outside the Jameson Tavern.
It’s even printed on a coffee mug that sits on the desk of Town Manager Peter Joseph, who followed the news via Google alerts.
“It was all over the place,” Joseph said. “Was it a slow news week?”
Nonetheless, Joseph said the story of the debunked motto was good publicity, not bad. People will ultimately respect the town for siding with historical accuracy, he contended.
Vaughn Stinson, chief executive of the Maine Tourism Association, agreed that the story of the debunked motto isn’t bad publicity. In fact, a lot of mottos, slogans and other marketing attempts fail to gain traction for their towns, but the story of Freeport’s debunked motto spread like wildfire.
Also, Freeport has a lot going for it, Stinson added. It has good dining and lodging, it’s safe, walkable and has rail service. Even the name is good, he said.
“People just like the sound of ‘free,'” Stinson said. “‘Freeport’ sounds appealing.”
These are all things that a marketing campaign can condense into a quick hitting statement, he said: “Maybe Freeport ends up with: ‘Where Everything Is.'”
Creating a new motto rests with Freeport’s Special Projects Committee, which is chaired by Town Council Vice Chairwoman Kristina Egan. The committee will meet sometime this summer to determine the public process for picking a motto.
“I imagine we’ll want to talk to a variety of stakeholders in Freeport: people who know the history, who are thinking about the present and the future,” Egan said. “I feel like we’ve got a lot of great ideas here in town. There’s no reason we would need to go to an outside firm.”
Not every town in the area has a motto. Cumberland and Chebeague Island go without catchy slogans, but Chebeague has an unofficial one: “The Newest Town in Maine,” a reference to its 2007 secession from Cumberland.
Falmouth also goes without a slogan, but it may soon entertain the idea when the town redesigns its website and redoes its signs along U.S. Route 1, Town Manager Nathan Poore said.
The task is not as simple as it sounds, however. A town can represent many different things to many different people, so striking the right balance can be tricky, he said.
“Who is the audience? Who are we trying to convey our message to: our residents, our visitors, the business community, the school community?” Poore said.
North Yarmouth has a matter-of-fact motto, “The Town Where Others Began.” North Yarmouth used to include the land area that is now Cumberland, Freeport, Harpswell, Pownal and Yarmouth, which each established their own identities between 1750 and 1849.
Yarmouth, on the other hand, has a colorful motto that dates back to its earliest days: “Our Latchstring Always Out.”
A latchstring was used in Colonial times as a door mechanism. It was slotted through a small hole in the door to the outside of the home. When pulled, the string lifted the door’s latch to allow entry. At night, it was customary to pull the string inward so people outside the home couldn’t gain entry.
By metaphorically leaving its latchstring out, the town is trumpeting its welcoming attitude, Town Manager Nat Tupper said.
“It’s just like Motel 6’s slogan, ‘We’ll leave the light on for you,'” he said.
Town Councilor Steve Woods said the motto, albeit somewhat archaic, is practical.
“It comes up monthly as a guiding principle. How should we look at the Comprehensive Plan? How should we look at Clam Fest? How should we look at funding? We’re a town where our latchstring is out. From my perspective, it’s not an antiquated motto, it’s an active, guiding principle.
“It’s not as controversial – or false – as Freeport’s,” Woods joked.
Freeport’s former slogan appears on a public works truck. On June 18, the Town Council voted to phase out the slogan after it was deemed untrue.
This plaque, erected outside the Jameson Tavern by the local chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution, made the erroneous claim that Freeport was the birthplace of the state of Maine. Over the ensuing years, the town adopted the claim as its slogan. On June 18, the Town Council voted to phase it out.