Welcome to Malaga Island, a pristinely beautiful, 40-acre island off the coast of Maine. This tiny island, in a state with over 4,600 islands dotting its coastline, was home to a small island community during the Civil War and up to 1911. Now, it's completely devoid of human life.
Forty-two happy campers once lived here in a small fishing community until people heard that these villagers were of mixed race. Black, Scottish, Portuguese, Irish and people of other ethnicities were all living together in harmony, some married, some unmarried. To the people of Maine, that was unacceptable.
Maine Governor Frederick Plaisted viewed the little town of Malaga not only as a blight on the Maine map but a prime real estate opportunity. But there was still the issue of the "degenerates" living there, as many newspapers called them. In 1902, The Bath Enterprise described them as "Not Fit For Dogs-Poverty, Immorality and Disease...Ignorance, Shiftlessness, Filth, and Heathenism...A Shameful Disgrace that Should Be Looked After at Once." Friendly, right?
Clearly, something had to be done about this monstrous community of people. So Governor Plaisted took a nice little trip over to the island to check it out, telling the residents that there was no chance that they could possibly be evicted. Three weeks later it became pretty clear he wasn't exactly telling the truth.
After his trip, Governor Plaisted gave the residents an ultimatum. They were told either leave the island and remove their homes from it or if they failed to do so, they would be forcibly evicted and their homes would be burned. Some pretty great options for the people of Malaga, really.
With no other choice, Malaga residents left the island. But not in the most peaceful way. Some residents were forced to float their homes up and down the river. Eight residents were institutionalized without significant grounds at the Maine School for the Feebleminded. Most of them spent the rest of their lives at the institution.
Because it wasn't far enough to remove every single living person from the land, the officials also went for the graveyards. They dug up 15 bodies from the graveyards and combined them all into five caskets. While the bodies were being moved to unmarked graves on the mainland, the body of one of the children was lost in the river. It was reportedly recovered, but the mass grave where the bodies rest gives no proper evidence to that claim.
One of the couples that had lived on the island, Robert and Laura Darling Tripp, had no place to turn. They constructed a houseboat and drifted from one place to the next, but were un-welcomed wherever they landed because of the stigma attached to the island. Suffering from a lack of nutrition, Laura fell ill and died, leaving her two children motherless.
In 2001, The Main Coast Heritage Trust took over possession of the island, and excavations began. In 2010, Governor John Baldacci held a small ceremony on the island where he apologized publicly for the actions of his predecessors on the island so long ago.
Kate McMahon gives tours of the island for the Heritage Trust. "I hope as time goes on it becomes easier for people to talk about, because the island as a physical place does carry a lot of significance to the descendants," she said. The island is now visited by people who can go there to sign the logbook, reflect on the past and look forward to a more hopeful future.