‘Ghosts of Bangor’ photo project splices city’s past with present

mercantile square

It’s easy to walk the streets of Bangor and completely forget that even just 50 years ago, things looked very, very different. Between fires, redevelopment and the misguided urban renewal-inspired demolition of the 1960s and 70s, the architectural landscape of the city has changed dramatically — not always for the better.

Longtime Bangor resident Rick Haney, a photographer and Photoshop enthusiast and amateur local historian, saw things a little differently. After talking to older residents of the city who remember those long-gone buildings, he began to see them in his mind’s eye, as he turned different street corners in downtown. The ghosts of those buildings and the people and activities they housed came into focus.

“Most people saw decaying, empty buildings downtown, or empty lots where buildings used to be. I saw things differently, and developed a fascination with what was once there,” said Haney, who by day works in the Communication and Collaboration Services Department at the University of Maine. “I’ve toured every old building that remains downtown, and even met some of the people who worked in the ones that were torn down. Their stories are remarkable, and I learned about Urban Renewal through their eyes.”

To let people see downtown they way he sees it, Haney started a photo project called Ghosts of Bangor, in which he uses Photoshop to lay historical images on top of present-day photos of various spots in the city, to splice together Bangor’s past with Bangor present and give a sense of what was back then, and what is today.

upper main street

The resulting photos are now up on a Tumblr page, which has received hundreds of new followers in the past week, and a Facebook page, which has received more than 500 likes since launching less than a week ago.

Haney takes his own photos of the present-day, and then uses historical photographs found online and provided by fellow local history fans carefully laid on top of the current images to show exactly what it might have looked like, had that building survived. It’s a bit of a complicated process, making sure the angles of the photos he takes are commensurate with the historical images.

“The majority of the original photos have been provided by members of the ‘You knew you grew up in Bangor when…’ Facebook page,” said Haney. “A few have come from people asking me to use a specific image that they provided to me, and some have come from my personal collection.”

Some are shocking, like the image of the former Bangor High School, which burned during the Great Fire of 1911 and which was located at what is now the Abbott Square Parking Lot across from the Bangor Public Library. Some are more recent memories, like the Nickel Theater or the Park Theater, which stood on Union and Park Streets, respectively, and burned in the 1960s and 70s. Some aren’t buildings at all, but historical events, like the Brady Gang shooting on Central Street.

park street theater

Haney has a few new photos set to go up on the site in the next week, and hopes to continue updating both Tumblr and Facebook with additional photos in the coming months. He hopes his ‘Ghosts’ project inspires those who remember some of those buildings to share their stories — as well as allows younger residents to appreciate some of the lesser known parts of the history of the Queen City, architectural or otherwise.

“I’ve always been nostalgic, but to hear older folks talk about Bangor in a ‘back when there was still some charm here’ type of view really opened my eyes to how much this town has changed, and how that change has affected people who have been here all their lives,” said Haney.

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, UMaine graduate, proud Bangorian and a writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food to all the cool things going on in the Greater Bangor area. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra. She's interested in everything that happens in Maine.