Shhh. Do not tell anybody. It’s just gossip. And anyway, the only two people who know the truth are Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Susan Chase. And they’re not here to defend themselves, so it’s not really fair, is it?

But if you promise, really promise, I’ll tell you the story. And it’s just a story.

From 1822 to 1825, when the young Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a student at Bowdoin College, he was reportedly seen walking from the Bowdoin College campus towards Pennellville. Now this is where the speculation begins.

Did young Henry go out on Mere Point Road and then continue along the shore? Or did he walk in a straight line?

Did you go out to see the boats that Pennell boat builders were building in Pennellville? Or did the now famous student go out to watch the tide rise?

Have you ever been to Bunganuc Road to visit the Samuel Chase family, who raised five young women, many of whom married members of the Pennell clan?

And if so, why? Was it because the young poet’s maternal grandfather, General Peleg Wadsworth, had befriended Benjamin Chase, Susan’s grandfather, during the Revolutionary War?

William Barry, at the Maine Historical Society reference desk, says he can’t see such a link between the Chases and the Wadsworths or Longfellows. “Maybe,” he says. “Benjamin Chase was a captain in the Revolutionary War, but I can’t find him here.”

Still, there’s a chance the families met, says Charles Calhoun, author of Longfellow, A Rediscovered Life. “Maine was a small place and the main families knew each other.”

“The Chases and Longfellows were the leading aristocrats of the day,” explains Walt Henshaw, a retired Boston attorney, as he walks through the snow on his property near the small cemetery where Samuel and Mary Chase are buried on Bunganuc Road.

And on these visits to see the Chases, did Longfellow meet a special daughter of Chase, one named Susan Chase?

Henshaw, who at one time lived in Chase’s home at 380 Bunganuc Road after his parents bought it but before his nephew, John Henshaw, renovated it, he first heard the legend when he was young at the Feet of Robert PT Coffin, former Maine Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner.

His mother and grandmother had befriended Coffin’s daughter, who was caught in a thunderstorm riding her bicycle in front of their house. They took her back home to Coffin’s in Pennellville. Coffin invited them in.

“The whiskey bottles were opened,” says Henshaw. “And Coffin told us.”

Now some, who don’t want to be named, have said that Robert PT Coffin was a better storyteller than a historian, but never mind, a story is a story. And the fact that it has persisted for so long is interesting, says Charles Calhoun, resident scholar at the Maine Council on the Humanities.

“Even if the story were true,” says Dr. Irmscher, an English professor at Indiana University, “and I haven’t seen any reference to it anywhere, it wouldn’t change our perception of Longfellow one bit. Sensual man, and even before his marriage, he was involved with several women we know: a girl in Spain he seems to have fallen in love with in 1827, Florencia Gonzalex, and in Rome he became romantically interested in Giula Persiana – so this would all be old news. ” .

Don’t say that to those who believe in the Longfellow and Susan Chase story.

Nancy Pennell of Pennellvile says the legend was passed down to her by her mother-in-law, Alice Coffin Pennell.

And Robert PT Coffin’s son, Richard Coffin, of Falmouth says he has always known about the legend of Longfellow’s letters to Susan that Susan’s aunt, Mary Ellen Pennell, allegedly burned after Susan’s death.

Were they love letters, those letters Robert PT Coffin writes about in Captain Abby and Captain John? Were they kept in a trunk all of Susan Chase’s life? Nobody knows. “People in the Victorian era never talked about sex,” says Richard Coffin, “or anything that anyone would think would be bad.”

However, letters from Susan Chase to Longfellow cannot be found in the Harvard Houghton Library, according to Anita Israel, Archives Specialist, Longfellow National Historic Site.

“Victorian families were famous for editing family documents to remove any hint of scandal,” says Calhoun. So even if there were letters, they may not have survived.

“I can neither confirm nor deny these rumors,” says Richard Lindemann, director of George J. Mitchell’s department. Archives and Special Collections, Bowdoin College Library.

But even non-Pennells Pennellville people believe the legend that Susan Chase and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow may have been on courtship terms at least for a short time.

“Oh, we all know that story,” said an older man I met when I drove to enjoy the water view one sunny day last summer in Pennellville. But he did not repeat history. He seemed to suppose that I must also know. Like everyone else.

Speculation continues to this day. Perhaps Longfellow wanted to marry Susan, as history buff Frank Connors of Bowdoinham suggests? Did your father reject a poet because he wanted a sea captain?

Or did Susan want to marry Longfellow but the poet chose to follow his father’s wishes, which may have been for him to marry Mary Potter, the daughter of a Portland attorney who was a friend of his father?

The facts remain. “The two great loves in Longfellow’s life were Mary Potter and Fanny Appleton,” says Calhoun, a resident fellow at the Maine Humanities Council.

But Walt Henshaw disagrees. “Longfellow broke Susan’s heart twice.” Once when he married Mary Potter. And a second time when he decided to follow Fanny Appleton in Boston after moving to Cambridge to teach at Harvard.

“Maybe little Susan Chase wasn’t going to hack it,” Henshaw suggests. “Longfellow may have had greater social ambitions.”

Irmscher doubts that conclusion. “Longfellow was a very ethical man, and although he liked women, he did not decide who to be with based on money or social status. His seven-year courtship with Fanny brought him to the brink of insanity and the collapse was nothing. to do with economic aspirations at all. “

Will we ever know the truth about Longfellow and Susan Chase? Probably not, unless some lyrics emerge that are now believed to have been lost.

So shhh! Do not say it. Anyway, it’s just gossip.

“But it’s a story I like to tell,” says Henshaw as he trudges through the snow back to his beautiful home on the water across from the Chase mansion.

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