UNITY — At the request of a Select Board member, state Sen. Glenn “Chip” Curry, D-Waldo, has proposed legislation to rename Bridge 5228 the Alton “Mac” McCormick Memorial Bridge. The bridge carries U.S. Route 202 and State Route 9 over Sandy Stream.

Longtime Select Board member Penny Sampson told The Republican Journal Jan. 13 she had approached Curry about naming the bridge in McCormick’s honor. Previously, she said, there had been a plaque on the Quonset hut gymnasium at Unity Elementary School. When the hut was moved some years ago, the plaque went with it.

Alton “Mac” McCormick Sr., the assistant fire chief who lost his life rescuing flood victims during Hurricane Edna in September 1954, and for whom the bridge is to be named, still has descendants in town, including current Select Board member Dan McCormick, who is a great-grandson, she said. Sampson recently testified at a hearing on the bill to rename the bridge.

About 10 days before Edna struck, Hurricane Carol had ripped through New England, doing unprecedented damage in Maine, only to be outstripped by the wreckage caused by Edna itself, which dropped 7 inches of rain in the course of a day.

According to an account in The Republican Journal of Sept. 16, 1954, “Fred Brockway and his family were marooned 40 feet from dry land by a flood crest that stalled (their car) at the approach to the Sandy Creek bridge on the Albion-Unity Road.”

The story quotes Mrs. Brockway as saying, “Fred drove out to the bridge. He was going to ask if it was all right to cross. A big wave suddenly came on the car. The water came up high and the motor stopped. … Fred yelled out ‘We got a bunch of kids in here. Help us out.’”

Unity Fire Chief Max Fortier, who was already on the scene, responded, according to The Journal, by recruiting five men, including McCormick, to form a human chain to lift the children to safety. Sandy Creek is described as a “normally gentle stream whipped to a frenzied torrent by winds and downpour.” The first two children, Thelma, 2, and Blanche, 5, were passed to safety.

This photo from the Sept. 16, 1954, Republican Journal shows the Brockways’ car still sitting in Sandy Stream the day after Ruth Brockway, 8, and Alton McCormick, 47, were drowned in floodwaters from Hurricane Edna. Courtesy of Belfast Free Library

Then her father held Ruth Brockway, 8, out to the rescuers. “They were reaching for the girl when the road collapsed into the stream,” the story goes on. “The men were swept away. ‘I went over backward and struck a wire,’ said the stunned father. ‘I think I hurt my leg, and when I did, I lost Ruthie.’ The girl vanished. Her body was recovered the next day at the mouth of Sandy Stream where it enters Winnecook Lake.”

The Journal account continues, “McCormick was swept away. He was not seen again.” The paper for Sept. 23 had a front page story about McCormick’s funeral, which said his body was found a week later “near the outlet of the stream in which he drowned at Lake Winnecook.”

The Sept. 16 hurricane story recounts “several stories of extreme heroism … as Unity men braved the swirling current” successfully to rescue some of those swept away while trying to save Ruth Brockway. After spending the night on top of their car, the rest of the children and their mother, holding a 7-month-old infant, were helped to safety.

In the story, Mrs. Brockway says, “We thought we were all going with little Ruth. … Thank God we were saved!”

According to The Journal’s account of the search for McCormick’s body and his funeral, “the search had been constant since Sunday, September 12, and was led by Fire Chief Max Fortier, brother-in-law of the missing man.”

The story goes on, “Funeral services were held Sunday afternoon in the Union Church at Unity, which was filled to overflowing.” The service was attended by Masons, Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, and “flowers … occupied a large part of the church.”

McCormick, who died at just 47, had worked for a packing company and a lumber company, then operated a Gulf Oil service station in Unity and inspected oil burners, the story says. He also owned and operated a local school bus.

“At the time of his death,” the story recounts, “he was noble grand of Invictus Lodge of Odd Fellows; was first assistant of the Unity fire department; vice president of the Unity Lions Club; had been a first lieutenant in the National Guard company when it existed here; was an umpire in the Junior Baseball League; belonged to the Kanokolunkus Fish & Game Association; Harvest Moon Grange in Thorndike; the Farm Bureau, in the West Masonic Lodge and the Rebekahs.

He was survived by his widow, two married daughters, five sons and grandchildren.

Gary Pratt, one of McCormick’s grandchildren, has owned and operated Hair Flair salon in town since 1975. He was 3 at the time of his grandfather’s death, and said he has no memories of him apart from family stories he has heard over the years. He added that McCormick was posthumously awarded the first-ever Civilian Citation for Bravery by then-Gov. Burton Cross. He told The Journal that his grandmother, Sylvania McCormick, never got over her husband’s tragic death and a dozen years later ended her own life in the same spot where he had lost his.

The bill to name the bridge over Sandy Stream, the scene of McCormick’s heroism, in his honor will have a work session Jan. 20, according to Lisa Haberzettl, deputy communications director for the Senate Democratic Office, and if approved, will then be scheduled for a vote by the full Legislature and ultimately sent to the governor for her signature. The naming must also be approved by the Select Board.

Editor’s note: We appreciate the help of The Belfast Museum and The Belfast Free Library in researching this story.

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