Transcription of Love Maine Radio #347: Emily Wedick and Louise and Kim Swan

Speaker 1:                                      You are listening to Love Maine Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a physician and editor-in-chief of Maine, Maine Home Design, Old Port, Ageless, and Moxie magazines. Love Maine Radio show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                          This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, Show Number 347, airing for the first time on May 13, 2018. Today we speak with Emily Wedick and her friend, Louise, two advertising account managers at the Maine Media Collective who each have young children who are transgender. We also speak with Kim Swan, the owner of The Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty and a film producer. Thank you for joining us.

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Lisa Belisle:                          Emily Wedick and her friend Louise are advertising account managers at Maine Media Collective. They are both supporting their children through transitioning, and both have been involved in creating resources for parents and transgender children going through the process of transitioning. Thanks for coming in today.

Louise:                                     Thank you for having us.

Emily Wedick:                      Thank you.

Lisa Belisle:                          This is a very interesting time for both of you because each of you has other children at the same time. You’ve been parenting for how many years now, Louise?

Louise:                                     I have identical twins that are five and a half, so yeah, it’s been very interesting, especially with them being identical twins and one being transgender at such a young age and the other one cisgender. That’s another piece of terminology that I didn’t know about but learned about, and that’s just the opposite of trans. You’re cis. I’m cisgender and … yeah, so [crosstalk 00:02:42]-

Lisa Belisle:                          It means that you identify with the body that you were born into.

Louise:                                     Exactly, exactly, yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                          That would be cis, and trans would be that the body that you were born into doesn’t-

Louise:                                     Doesn’t match.

Lisa Belisle:                          … feel like it fits your identity.

Louise:                                     Right.

Lisa Belisle:                          Okay.

Louise:                                     Right, exactly. Yeah. We noticed that early on. I don’t know. Do you want me to … Would you like to tell about how old your kids are and stuff?

Emily Wedick:                      Yeah.

Louise:                                     Then we can get into our stories.

Emily Wedick:                      Sure. My oldest child is six, and I have a four-year-old as well. My six-year-old is my child who is transgender. When she was born, we identified her as male, but she let us know quite quickly, from the age of two started giving us signals that it took quite a while to pick up on that she did not identify as male, so interestingly, also going through this process as a first-time parent, because she was my first-born child, and then I have a four-year old daughter as well.

Lisa Belisle:                          How does one pick up on a two-year-old feeling not right with their body?

Emily Wedick:                      Well, it’s interesting. The research has shown or experts in child development say that it is around the age of two or three that we start to develop a sense of gender identity when a child can articulate whether they’re a girl or a boy and sort of have a sense of what that means in a social context. If someone asks you, “Are you a girl?” for example, as a cisgender person who identifies with the body they were born into and the gender that they were labeled as a child, we don’t question why, “Why are you a girl? Why do you feel like a girl?” “Well, I just am.” With a transgender child, it’s a very similar experience. My child had what we would typically think of as a boy’s body. We gave her a traditionally male name. She was dressed in clothing that we would associate with … that I bought from the boys’ section at children’s clothing stores.

Very quickly she started to show, through certain ways of expression … Often, one of the first things that children will do is start to reject the clothing that’s associated with that gender. My child started asking for dresses. Because I had had my daughter, my second child, around that time as well, hand-me-downs were starting to flood the house from friends with dresses for my new baby girl to grow into. My two-year-old, at the time, would say, “Well, is this for me?” We’d say, “No. This is for your sister,” and my two-year-old would say, “No, for me,” and become very insistent and seemed very disappointed, so at some point after persistent asking about dresses, her father and I decided, “Well, why not let this child wear a dress?”

In my mind, it seemed more like a creative expression, maybe kind of like playing dress-up. She would have on her dinosaur t-shirt and cargo pants, and I would put the dress over it and send my child on their way. All of these signs sort of add up over time. When I look back at photographs now of the time period between about two and a half and three, I notice that, almost every photograph, my child, who at the time we knew as a boy, is in a dress. It’s those sorts of signs, and then we can talk about what that looks like as the child gets older and how they start to become persistent and send messages in other ways.

Lisa Belisle:                          Louise, what did you notice about your son Joe?

Louise:                                     Well, yeah, it’s interesting. It was right around the same kind of timing. Looking back, we could notice signs at two years old. Both of my children, identical, were born as female, but Joe identifies as male. Looking back, we could see kind of his stance and, I don’t know, just little things that you could see, but then, at three years old, it started with the clothes. I used to dress them, of course, exactly alike, and it was tutus and everything. I had identical girls, and I wanted them to be exactly alike, and I just thought it was the cutest little thing, but Joe was having no part of that, though.

Every time we’d go to the store, he wanted to go into the boys’ section. I would look for gender-neutral clothes and take something from the girls’ section and put it in the boys’ section and just say, “Hey, Joe, what do you think about this?” Yeah, well, as long as it came out of the boys’ section, then that was okay, and so we did that, but these were just little signs, and I thought, well, with identical twins … Of course, this is my first time being a mom. I was thinking, oh, maybe they’re just trying to find their own way, and maybe one’s a little tomboyish. Who knows? He can dress his own way and then … so it wasn’t very long that they could dress alike. The things that he did like were the ultimate boy stuff. It was the camo pants, and it was the Ninja Turtles shirt, and it was … those were the things, and didn’t even want pink things to touch him or anything like that, anything that kind of resembled a girl.

Yeah, so there was one instance with my husband where he was laying on the grass and had our two girls, at the time, laying there, and they were looking up at the sky. There was somebody building a house next door, and they were asking, “Dad, how did they build that house?” My husband said, “Well, there’s builders that do that, and they cut down the trees, and this is how they build a house.” Joe, at the time Anna, was looking at the sky. They were both looking at the sky and said, “Well, Dad, who makes the clouds in the sky?” We’re not a hugely religious family, but we do believe in a higher power. He said, “Well, that would be God.” This was at three. Joe said, at the time Anna, “So God put me in the wrong body?” My husband was just taking it in and said, “Um, you know …” Didn’t really know how to answer that.

Those were the kind of things that we just took in, those sorts of things. As it got further along, Joe would say things like, “I’m a boy, and the only one who believes me is my twin sister,” and so we’d ask Carla, “Carla, what do you think?” Carla would be like, “Mom, yes, Joe’s a boy.” Those are some major points.

Emily Wedick:                      I’m glad that Louise is speaking to some of those kind of anecdotes as well because I think, obviously, one of the first ways that kids will start to express their identity is through their clothing and what they wear, but it does extend beyond that. I want to be careful too because it’s very typical for preschoolers, children between the ages of two and five, to play dress-up and experiment, so-

Louise:                                     True.

Emily Wedick:                      Parent’s shouldn’t be concerned if a male child wants to put on an Elsa dress and be a princess. That’s very typical, but where you start to kind of understand that maybe something deeper is happening is where you see that consistency. What we’ve learned along the way from child development experts and doctors and psychologists is that the hallmark of a child being transgender is that they are consistent, persistent, and insistent, and so all of the stories that we are sharing are sort of mile markers or things that happened along the way on a longer journey with our children sort of doing everything in their power to consistently, insistently, and persistently kind of wave their arms and say, “Mom, look, this is-”

Louise:                                     “This is me.”

Emily Wedick:                      “This is who I am.” It extends a lot further than the clothing that they wear.

Louise:                                     Yeah, yeah. With Joe, it was very … wanted to have a boy’s cut, a boy’s haircut, a boy’s haircut and had the same haircut as his sister, let it grow out long, whatever, and so getting that first haircut … I mean we already let him dress the way he had wanted to, but seeing him cut just like … and he wanted it very short, just like a boy, because he really wants you … but to see it unfold and see himself in the mirror, he could see his external match who he felt internally, and that was just amazing as a mom to see that, to know that your child is so happy with who they see in the mirror. That was another moment, I think.

Lisa Belisle:                          Did either one of you experience anxiety coming from your children, or were there behavior changes? Did they feel depressed? I mean some people believe that maybe kids are too little to actually feel anxious or depressed, but I’m not sure that’s true, and I’m wondering how this impacted your families.

Louise:                                     Yeah. Did you experience much of that?

Emily Wedick:                      I did. It’s tough with children because they have such big emotions and don’t always-

Louise:                                     Right, to try to decipher-

Emily Wedick:                      … know how to express themselves, so sometimes it’s very hard to tease out what’s sort of developmentally typical and what is kind of more on the extreme end of things, and then of course-

Louise:                                     What’s a tantrum and what is-

Emily Wedick:                      What is something-

Louise:                                     … trans-related or getting out anxiety or what is just a normal kid’s tantrum?

Emily Wedick:                      I would say the way that I, and with my child, saw things progressing was a lot of anxiety around going to school whereas, at earlier ages, this was a child who loved daycare, who thrived, who loved preschool, who was excited about going to school every day, who easily made friends, who was very outgoing and confident, who began to suddenly get very upset before going to school, become very clingy, develop separation anxiety that had not previously been there, and then slowly started to be able to articulate in words, “I can’t wear a dress to school because the boys will laugh at me. The other boys will laugh at me.” It’s incredible. I would say this is around the age of four or four and a half, around that time, when I think kids start to understand and have a social awareness of what certain norms are with their peers.

Of course, we’re learning now that gender can be a very creative spectrum in that there are children who are male who will always identify as male who are not trans who may enjoy nail polish or things we typically associate with feminine, but at that age it’s very black and white. Children often organize themselves, boys’ team, girls’ team, and suddenly, my child didn’t know where they fit and started to become self-conscious and develop almost a sense of shame is how I perceived it, and so, suddenly, we were battling to go to school every day. Finally, my child looked at me and just said, “When it’s summer and the school year ends, I’m going to grow my hair long. I’m going to wear it in braids. I’m going to wear dresses every day, and I’m going to be a girl, and that’s who I am.”

It kind of became, at that point … It was the freight train that was running and either her father and I were going to get on it and be supportive and start to understand what she was going through and experiencing and how we could be the best parents that we could be, or it was going to run away without us. I think that, as you talk to parents who have kids who come out at a very young age, there are a lot of these sort of seminal moments that we all experience where we realize this is happening.

Louise:                                     It happens all of a sudden, yeah, like a freight train. It’s like it-

Emily Wedick:                      Whether I like it or not.

Louise:                                     You see these little pieces that are determining things, but then, all of a sudden, they’re ready, and they’re telling you. Joe felt a lot of anxiety and stress after he got his hair cut because we hadn’t come out to the class yet. It was the weekend. It was Sunday night, and he was going to be going into school the next day. The night before that, Sunday night, he was worried, “What if the kids still don’t believe I’m a boy?” even with his haircut. He started saying that his throat was hurting him and burning. I didn’t know if it was something physical. I took him to the emergency room. Come to find out, it was all just very nervous energy about all that.

That was one of the times, and then another time was when the teacher started to notice where … and the kids too, which line was he going to get into for the bathroom? Was it going to be the boys’ line or the girls’ line? They started to name off all the boys, and then they put Joe, and then they’d start off the girls. He came home that day, and he was so excited that he was at the end of the boys’ line. That was when we were just like, “Okay, this is it. We need to talk to the teachers. We need to start making this change,” and he was so happy about it.

Lisa Belisle:                          You both met through a play group that you, Emily, had put together for parents and children who were transitioning this way. From what I understand, this was very helpful.

Emily Wedick:                      I had, through sort of chance, met another mother in southern Maine who had a then also four-and-a-half, five-year-old child who had come out as a transgender girl, meaning they thought she was a boy when she was born. She came out as a girl. We got together and had a play date together and sort of started kind of brainstorming and talking about how there are quite a few number of resources that we can also share with this audience for transgender adults and for transgender youth, but those tend to be geared a lot more toward older youth teens, and we found that there wasn’t a lot to support families with younger children.

What we wanted to do was not really have sort of a formalized support group or something really clinical. We just wanted a safe space for families to get together, for parents to be able to kind of share experiences, and for the kids to just play, and have a very normalized experience, and understand that there are other children like them, because it’s so important. We know that it’s important for children to have dolls that represent their skin color, or their hair type, or whatever it is. Children love to see themselves and know that they’re okay and know that … to feel special, and to feel okay, and to not feel other than or feel so different, and so we thought this would be a good opportunity for kids to just kind of know that there are many children like them.

To put that in context, there is a private Facebook group for parents of transgender children that is actually an international group. I think, at this point, it has over 5,000 members.

Louise:                                     It’s huge, and it’s-

Emily Wedick:                      If you think about it, that includes parents who are actively seeking out resources to support their children. It’s most likely a fraction of the number of children who are transgender. There are a lot of us, and so our group has sort of organically been growing. I would say there are probably about 15 families now-

Louise:                                     Yeah.

Emily Wedick:                      … who have joined us in the southern Maine area. One of the things that we did was we provided information about our group at … there is, through Maine Medical Center, a pediatric gender clinic, and that’ll … provides some context as well and indication of, I guess, the need for these services, so that’s where we’ve shared some information as well as through my pediatrician’s office. We can certainly provide resources and to connect to other families who might be interested as well.

Louise:                                     Yes, we’re happy to do that. The trans youth group that I go to that Emily started is just amazing. It’s been such a great resource for us, the bonds that we’ve made with the parents. The kids all running around, whether it be the siblings or the gender-nonconforming kids, you don’t even know who’s who, and nobody cares, and they’re just running around in packs, and us, as parents, being able to talk about things that are unfolding with our young children and if we’ve had any experiences. Most of them are very similar experiences.

It is great for us to have that community of people so our kids don’t feel different. They feel like they belong, and they’re having a strong sense early on of being themselves, and I think that that’s what’s important because for transgender people who are not supported, the … I hate bringing up this because it really … it hurts me as a parent that there’s … it’s a 41% suicide rate, and that’s for people who are not supported. When they are supported, that drops down tremendously. I know that, with the group that we’re together with, our kids are going to thrive. They’re going to survive. They’re going to do great things, and so, yeah, I want to thank Emily and her friend for starting that.

It just keeps growing, and we would love for it to grow and to continue to grow, and so, yeah, if you would like to hear more about the group or talk to Emily or myself, we do have an email address that you could email us at. It’s transkids Maine, ME, so I’ll spell it out, [email protected]. Just write to us, and we’d love to talk to you.

Lisa Belisle:                          Well, I really appreciate your taking the time to come in and talk today because I think this is something that many people are working through right now and don’t necessarily know what the resources are, and this is a good way for them to connect with people who have been through similar experiences.

I’ve been speaking with Emily Wedick and her friend Louise who are advertising account managers at Maine Media Collective. They are both supporting their children through transitioning, and both have been involved in creating resources for parents and transgender children going through the process of transitioning. Thank you so much for what you are doing and for coming in and being willing to share your stories.

Emily Wedick:                      Thank you so much for having us.

Louise:                                     Yes, thank you so much.

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Kim Swan is the owner of the Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty and is on the board of the Bar Harbor Historical Society and a longstanding friend of the magazine, so thanks so much.

Kim Swan:                              You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                          I’ve really been interested in all the different types of work you’ve been doing up in the Bar Harbor area, because you could just focus on your business selling houses, but you also … You have a finger in the inns industry. You’re doing work with film. I mean it’s like I can’t turn around and not have your name be there up in Bar Harbor. Why all of this different stuff? What keeps you so interested in so many different things?

Kim Swan:                              I think it’s a combination of being a Gemini and wanting to do a lot of things at once, but I was thinking about it a few weeks ago, and I actually said to somebody, “Differently than most people in the real estate business … For most, it’s a second career or something they’ve done and then moved into full time. I didn’t have a choice.” Real estate was the family business, so when I was leaving for my freshman year in college, my father said, “Hey, take some real estate classes, and you won’t have to waitress during summers,” so I ended up selling houses during summers, and then it just became … I was going to go back and go to law school, but it was lucrative, and a lot of the local attorneys would say, “Kim, you’re making more money than we are,” because it was a good time.

I didn’t choose real estate, it chose me, so I think when I got to the point where I could start making choices, I was able to start doing some things that I was passionate about, like the film making is probably the newest thing, but the inns, and design, and just finding … It’s easy up there to find ways to marry them all into each other.

Lisa Belisle:                          Well, let’s talk about the film. You just told me that you’re now working on a second film, but you’re referring to this first film, which is called The Fire of ’47.

Kim Swan:                              Yes, so The Fire of ’47, which was really a statewide thing, happened … It decimated Bar Harbor, and it changed Bar Harbor. Up until that time, Bar Harbor was very much a wealthy community. Most of the people had jobs working for the cottagers, as they were known. It had started through the Depression and everything. It had started to not be as attractive, but people still had their big houses and everything. A lot of very notable families were there, and so when the fire came through, it ruined so many, I mean over 67 of the huge mansions, over 100 of the year-round people’s houses, so it changed Bar Harbor. That’s when we went, as somebody said, from being a summer community to being a tourist community. That’s when the hotels started being built. That’s when the motels started being built.

It was fascinating, and this was the 70th anniversary. In order to get people who had been through it 70 years ago, we need to start getting those people to record their experiences, so we sent out a casting call and said, “If you knew this, come down and talk to us.” The director, Peter Logue, who had approached the Bar Harbor Historical Society to make this film, and as a board member I said, “I’ll produce,” and then when the Historical Society would save the money on the producer, he just started interviewing people and put together this amazing film.

Lisa Belisle:                          Did you know all of the people that were involved in the storytelling aspect of this?

Kim Swan:                              Yes, they were all local, so most of them would have been in their teens, but never really knew their stories. You know how you always hear, “Oh, he doesn’t talk about the war. He doesn’t talk about …?” Some of these people had never talked about the fire, so some of their kids and grandkids had never heard these stories. It was amazing. I mean we just opened the doors to the Historical Society, and these people just started coming in, and the stories they were telling, when I saw the first trailer, I was … and I’m not exaggerating. I was in tears because this one guy talks about how … He says something along the lines of, “After the fire, they let us back in.” He said, “And we went back to the house,” and he said, “and it was gone,” and he said, “and I think I knew it was going to be gone, but I didn’t really realize everything was going to be gone.” There were some very sad stories and some very happy stories, but so compelling.

Then everybody came on board. Steve Zirnkilton, who is the voice of Law & Order, he’s a Seal Harbor guy, and we asked him … I mean we hadn’t even finished the sentence and said, “Hey, Steve, would you narrate this film?” It was yes, totally as a donation, and so we had some fun with it. The people loved being part of it with Steve and everything. At the beginning of the film, it’s just a black screen. We had five major sponsors that gave us $5,000 each, and then Maine Magazine, thank you, came on as our media sponsor, and so, at the beginning, there’s just a black screen with the logos and that booming Steve Zirnkilton Law & Order saying, “Without the support of these people, this wouldn’t have happened,” kind of like a Downton Abbey beginning, and then at the end, “And Maine, The Magazine.”

Everybody was just like, “Wow, this is the real deal. You got the Law & Order guy on it.” We didn’t have to ask twice. We said, “Can you help do this?” “Yes.” “Can you help do this?” When we called down here to Maine Mag, “This, I think, would be a really cool things for you guys to be involved in, and would you be the media …” I didn’t even finish the sentence, and it was, “Yes, we’re in,” so it’s been a great thing for the whole state.

Lisa Belisle:                          Your family is a longstanding Bar Harbor family. How were you impacted by the fire?

Kim Swan:                              We actually didn’t move to Bar Harbor til I was four, and so I’m not allowed to say I’m from Bar Harbor, because my ex-husband was born in Bar Harbor, and he always would remind me. Somebody would say, “Are you from Bar Harbor?” Sometimes it’s easy to say yes, but if he’s anywhere near me, I have to say, “No, I was four.” We don’t have any memories. That was in the late ’60, end of ’60s, so we had just always heard about it. There’s still ruins. As kids, you would go and explore the ruins and everything of these old cottages. I’ve had listings in real estate. I have one right now that they never took down the gates and everything that didn’t burn, so it’s just … It’s in the fabric of your life if you grew up in Bar Harbor because it’s all around.

Lisa Belisle:                          Did it mean something to you that there were fires happening in other parts of the country, and really have been for quite some time, as you were working on this movie?

Kim Swan:                              That’s so interesting that you mention that because that was the time that the California fire and everything … It was happening, and I would watch these things and think, “Oh, my gosh. That looks so horrible,” where sometimes, with the ’47 fire, it’s almost like it was a movie or it was an event. It wasn’t real. Then the combination of reading the news and then also working on editing these interviews where people have these memories that were so clear, yeah, it was extra impactful, I think. I remember talking to a few people about that and saying, “Wow,” or, “70 years from now, is there going to be somebody looking back on these fires?” It gives you pause.

Lisa Belisle:                          It’s also a good reminder that, I mean, obviously, fire is something that’s so big that you can have all the most modern accessibility to things like water and firefighting equipment, and it could still really devastate just miles and miles and acres and acres of land and property and people’s lives.

Kim Swan:                              Yeah, yeah. Of course, back then, they didn’t have as much, but it’s interesting because the story that Steve Zirnkilton narrated, the story that the director chose to use was the written memories of the fire chief. I had always heard growing up that he always had a lot of guilt, and so it was … that’s the voice we heard telling this story and how … I mean they had put the fire out once and had no idea it was underground, which maybe today they would have known with all those little heat sensor things and everything. When it started up again, they didn’t know what was coming.

Then it goes back to how it started, and there’s so many … I call them urban myths even though Bar Harbor isn’t very urban, but how did it start? We never answered that question because there’s too many … I mean there are people that think it was arson. There are people that think it was a cigarette from some cranberry bog workers. There are people who think it was … it started near an old dump, that thought the sun came in just right on broken glass and started it. To hear it through his eyes and then the destruction, I mean, just horrible destruction, and then how it affected everything going forward.

Lisa Belisle:                          Tell me how Bar Harbor did rebuild from losing so much.

Kim Swan:                              It was most of the wealthy people left. Now, when you look at Mount Desert Island, the major cottages are in Northeast Harbor now. They’re not in Bar Harbor anymore. Bar Harbor is really the tourist center for Acadia and everything, but I think, going forward … One really interesting thing, I just sold a property a few weeks ago called Reef Point, and it’s right on the shore at Bath and Bar Harbor, so there’s not a lot of houses. They are very, very special properties, but Reef Point, at the time of the fire, and the fire didn’t take those houses, was owned by Beatrix Farrand who was a very, very famous landscape architect, we would call her now, but she insisted on being called a landscape gardener, had a beautiful house right on the shore at Bath, and she wanted to donate it to the town of Bar Harbor to be a horticultural center, and town of Bar Harbor couldn’t accept it. The town of Bar Harbor was broke. We had this horrible fire. So much of the tax base was gone, and so it was just a horrible situation because this mansion was breathtakingly beautiful.

Everybody’s making documentaries about her now. They’re starting to understand how important she was. When the town wouldn’t accept her house because they couldn’t because of the fire, she got upset, and she had it bulldozed and knocked it down. She had so many gardens, azalea gardens and all these other perennials that she had nurtured through the years of going all over the world doing most of the Rockefeller work and everything that, at the last second before this razing was done, Mr. Rockefeller, Mr. Savage, and the architect, his name’s going away from me, but they all said, “Can we at least come and take all these plants?” So azalea gardens and everything that were on this estate became the Azalea Gardens and part of Thuya in Northeast Harbor. They saved all these things, and it was directly because of the fire that Bar Harbor didn’t have the money to take this house and maintain it. Then you had other houses that would start being ripped down even well into the ’60s and early ’70s, and everything was because of the fire.

Lisa Belisle:                          Tell me what you leaned about with regard to the psychology of making it through a fire. If you’re talking to people who were children and teenagers, this is very traumatic for them.

Kim Swan:                              Yeah, it was traumatic. Some people in the film, you almost feel like, and not necessarily in a bad way, they grew up through the fire. There’s one man that talks about … I think he was 17, and they went outside, and there was … The fire chief, I think, was outside his house, and they said, “What are you doing?” He said, “Sign this paper,” to these kids. He said, “You’re now members of the fire department. Get going.” What they were in charge of doing is finding these paths to bring sandwiches and stuff to the men fighting the fire and to lead people through these Boy Scout paths that they knew, and so there was a huge source of pride with some people. There was a lot of humor in it. When you see the Criterion Theater, which is a big theater, 700-plus seats, when that whole theater erupts in laughter because of a documentary about a sad time, you know you’ve done something right.

There’s a man that tells the story about his father being out fighting the fire and realizing he had to evacuate his family, and so he told everybody, “We have to evacuate,” so he ran in the house and said to this young boy at the time, “Where’s your mother?” He said, “She’s upstairs getting dressed.” He said, “Where the hell does she think she’s going, to a party?” The whole theater erupted because, though they were very sad stories, they were also these stories of community coming together and everybody getting together, and that was the theme.

At the end, the director used a quote, a lady that said, “Islanders come together.” Even though I think that’s a Maine-wide theme, I think Mainers always come together, for that story, it was islanders come together. I don’t think you know on a documentary film like this. It leads you. I don’t think the director knew, and we certainly didn’t know, where it was going to go, and he followed it to this beautiful place.

Lisa Belisle:                          This film has actually led you into another project.

Kim Swan:                              Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                          And another film.

Kim Swan:                              Another film. We’re so excited. A neighbor of mine who just had her 90th birthday said to me after the success of the fire film … because we sold out the opening. We had red carpets. I mean we literally had a red carpet that all the stars were on, the photographer for Maine Magazine was there, Faces Maine had every single one of them, and some of these … They’re all in their 80s. She said to me one day, “You know, the next big thing here is happening is the 50th anniversary of Mount Desert Island High School is this year, 2018,” so we got thinking about that and thought, “Wow, we did a really cool things with marking the 70th anniversary, what’s this all about?”

On the face of it, okay, there’s a high school that was consolidated. Southwest Harbor, Tremont, Bar Harbor, and Mount Desert all went to separate high schools until 1968 when they came together, so that’s kind of cool, but how big a story is this? It’s huge. We’re actually working right now … The curator of the Bar Harbor Historical Society has been talking with the curator of the Rockefeller archives.

Back to the urban myths that happen, growing up in Bar Harbor, you hear this story that Mr. Rockefeller had always said he would build the high school for the island if they would call it Rockefeller High School. That’s just a well-known urban myth. If you really know the family or of the family, you know the last thing they do is ask for things to be named after them. I mean for Mr. Recent Rockefeller’s 100th birthday, they wanted to name a mountain after him, and he declined. Even though everybody believes that about the Rockefellers, it’s not true, and so now we have found, by going back through the archives, he was very involved in giving the land and buying the land but very quietly.

We’re going to be able to address things that, for the last 60 years, people have thought and how the high school started being talked about right after the fire because people had lost tax bases and can we keep these schools going? Again, it relates to all of Maine because there was so much resistance to this in some places and so much advocacy in other places. Everything on Mount Desert Island always goes back to basketball. You had guys who were superstar basketball players that couldn’t wait to consolidate and have kind of an all-star team that they could play on, but then you had other guys that might have been fourth or fifth man on their basketball team that knew, as soon as they consolidated, they wouldn’t play anymore.

It’s fascinating to hear these stories. I think it’s going to be as interesting and … I mean the audience for The Fire of ’47 was huge, but there’s going to be kids now … The director just filmed one of the championship basketball games, so he’s going to tie everybody in now, so there’s going to be 50, well, really 70 years of people, and just, again, letting the documentary find its own path and follow it has been amazing.

Lisa Belisle:                          Is it interesting to you that you’ve built your life around place and moving a place from one person to another or one company to another, and now your life is really focusing on place and the story of place in kind of a different way?

Kim Swan:                              I hadn’t thought about that, but you always have very good insights into stuff like that. That’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought about it like that, but it’s been a struggle because I love being in Portland. I still have businesses in Portland and everything, but I really … and I blame the Yorkies. You can’t travel a lot with two little Yorkies, but because of that, the last few years I’ve become so much more focused on Bar Harbor and working with the Historical Society, so yeah, it’s interesting. It’s also interesting when people come to Bar Harbor and buy a house, and a lot of what I do would be second homes or businesses, they get absorbed so fast. Bar Harbor is a town where, oh, you’ve been here five years? If you want to, it will be like you’ve been here 20 years because everybody kind of embraces this amazing history, and this complicated history, and all the different things going on.

It’s when people come from out of town that I realize you can be busy every night of the year in the winter in Bar Harbor. I didn’t know that. You see it through their eyes, and so, yeah, I think it is a sense of place and a sense of appreciating what you have and wanting to share it in any different way you can with other people, whether it’s through helping them purchase a property or understanding what’s happening and really embracing the history and taking the Historical Society … The Historical Society was a quiet little organization until we did a designer show house on a historical property with Maine Home & Design, and it was the first time that anybody had every done a fundraiser for the Bar Harbor Historical Society. They will all tell you this. That one experience has catapulted the Bar Harbor Historical Society, and it’s now one of the really talked about and, I think, admired organizations for kind of retooling the effort and saying, “Okay, first we’re going to make it so you can enjoy this historical house.” A lot of people don’t get to go into those homes.

Now we’re doing these films, and it’s all under the Historical Society umbrella, and it’s not just for local people. We have a board member that was talking about the mission statement, “We have to make these new people learn about what’s the history of this.” In my mind, it was always I’m preserving history for the people whose history it was, and that really gets you thinking. It’s everybody’s history. Nobody owns the history. If you want it to be your history, it’s yours, and how do you make it so that everybody has access to it, I guess?

Lisa Belisle:                          As you’re talking, I was thinking about a conversation I recently had with Abigail Carroll who is an oyster farmer. She told me that her oysters generally live on the bottom of the ocean floor. They started this new thing where they put them on trays next to the ones on the bottom of the ocean floor, and not only did they look different, but they tasted different, and they had a different consistency to them. I just thought, wow, what a great metaphor for us as humans, and where we live, and how we are shaped as much by the places we live in as we believe we shape those places. Now you’re talking about Bar Harbor, and you’re talking about people coming in, and I wonder if it’s not a little bit like oysters, that they start to take on the character of the place that they’re in, even kind of unwittingly.

Kim Swan:                              I think absolutely. Yeah. I think that you can see people who are … and it’s interesting because sometimes you will negotiate on a big sale, and somebody will be in New York or wherever they are, and they’ll be really tough. You get through that, and you think, “Oh, wow. He was kind of aggressive and everything but …” which I admire, so I don’t look at that as a bad thing, but then you kind of think they’re going to come to Bar Harbor and what’s it going to be like? Then it’s not there, so it’s exactly what you’re saying that that aggression and that thing that maybe fits somewhere else and that you use that mode of communication, I guess.

Then you come to Bar Harbor and that same person would never, never even raise their voice, never even … they’re just get adapted, I guess, so fast, much like the oysters. They’re going to live different ways considering what they’re surrounded by, so I think everybody calms down. We have Acadia National Park. It’s like, my gosh, that’s my backyard, what everybody wants to be … All of us in Maine, no matter where we are, everybody wants to get up there at some point. For us, it’s just where [Ava 00:53:39] and [Izzy 00:53:39] go for a walk every afternoon, so we count our blessings all the time.

Lisa Belisle:                          You’ve already talked about a lot of things that you’ve worked on and are working on. What’s the single biggest thing that you’re most excited for right now?

Kim Swan:                              I think the biggest thing is going to happen in the fall, actually, and I’m planning for it now. I’m really, really lucky to be acquiring a major lodging facility in the fall, and it’s something that I have had wanted forever. Everybody always says, “Why are you in the inn business in Portland, and Rockland, and all these places but not Bar Harbor?” I always said, “I want to be Kim the real estate broker in Bar Harbor. I don’t want to be this other person,” and I always used to say, “There are maybe one or two places in Bar Harbor I’d like to have,” and so the opportunity has come up and at the end of the year.

I think working on that design, and renovation, and rebranding, and ideas hands-down … I almost have to calm down because I’m so excited about it. It will launch in 2019, and it’s going to be … It’s just going to be amazing, and it’s going to be … I’m so lucky to have worked all over Maine in the lodging business, so it’s going to be something that Bar Harbor doesn’t have yet, so … because I also don’t want to compete with friends. Everybody in the business they’re almost as friends, so I never wanted to have something that would compete, so we’re going to create something completely, completely different.

Lisa Belisle:                          Well, I can’t wait to see it.

Kim Swan:                              You will be there on opening day, I hope.

Lisa Belisle:                          I absolutely will. How can people watch your movie The Fire of ’47?

Kim Swan:                              The Fire of ’47 is now out on DVD, and they can order that by going on We are working right now, and I don’t think it’s up yet, but we’re working on getting it onto iTunes so that people can stream it. It’s about 39 minutes. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but the DVD’s just fun to have. Brand Company did this amazing movie poster. I mean we had it all. We had the movie posters and the red carpet and everything, and so the movie poster is the cover of the DVD. Probably, that’s the easiest right now. We’re going to do more showings throughout the state. We’ve already done a lot in libraries and different theaters and everything, but pretty soon online.

Lisa Belisle:                          I’ve been speaking with Kim Swan who is the owner of The Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty and is on the board of the Bar Harbor Historical Society and has done so many other things. I really appreciate everything that you’re doing. This has been a fascinating conversation. I will be there and to see what you’re going to be coming up with for your next big thing this fall.

Kim Swan:                              I can’t wait. I can’t wait. Thanks for having me, Lisa.

Lisa Belisle:                          Thanks for coming in.

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You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, Show Number 347. Our guests have included Emily Wedick, her friend Louise, and Kim Swan. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa, and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram.

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