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Pack 111 works to mark graves of 1945 fire victims

Cub Scout Pack 111 of Auburn is planning a fundraising campaign to purchase headstones to mark the graves of victims of a tragic nursery fire that occurred during the final months of World War II.

Most Auburn residents are unaware that sixteen children, almost all of them babies, and one adult died in a horrific New Auburn fire on January 31, 1945. The early morning blaze spread quickly through a South Main Street home, then operating as a boarding home for babies of war workers and servicemen.

The tragedy shocked the nation, overshadowing war news of the day. Newspapers around the country reported the story on their front page. Arch Soutar, a reporter covering the fire for The Lewiston Evening Journal, wrote, “A shiver and a shudder has gone up from every home where a baby’s cry, or a child’s laugh, is heard.”

Fourteen of the victims are buried at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Lewiston where, fittingly, eleven of the victims are buried side-by-side in a special area for babies. Sadly, six of those eleven graves are without a headstone. The lone adult victim and her 5-year-old son, who also perished, are buried together at St. Peter’s Cemetery in a different location. Their grave is also unmarked.

Gerard Raymond, Executive Director at St. Peter’s Cemetery, says he would be “thrilled” if Pack 111 would provide headstones for the victims in the unmarked graves. Raymond has been helping the pack gather accurate information for the project and has offered the services of St. Peter’s Cemetery to install the headstones.

Pack 111 will also purchase headstones for three victims who are buried in other cemeteries in Lewiston, Auburn, and Bangor.?The pack plans to raise $2,000 to purchase and install a total of ten headstones. Their first goal is to have the headstones in place by the end of this summer. A future goal is to raise additional funds to purchase and erect a memorial stone in Auburn with the names of all seventeen victims. The Fortin Group will contribute to the campaign and will assist the pack in purchasing the headstones.

To raise funds for this project, Pack 111 will conduct a bottle drive in Auburn on Saturday, May 3. On that day, pack members will go door-to-door and will also man a collection point from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the United Methodist Church at 439 Park Avenue.

Pack 111 also has an ongoing bottle drive at Roopers. Bottles may be dropped off any time at any Roopers location in Auburn or Lewiston. You don’t have to wait for the bottles to be counted; just tell Roopers they are for the Auburn 1945 Fire Memorial.

Those wishing to donate to the project directly may send contributions to Cub Scout Pack 111, c/o United Methodist Church, 439 Park Avenue, Auburn, ME 04210. Checks should be made out to the Auburn 1945 Fire Memorial.

Pack 111 plans to host a ceremony to remember the victims on the 70th anniversary of the tragic fire. The event will take place at 8 a.m. on Saturday, January 31, 2015 inside the Mausoleum at St. Peter’s Cemetery on Deer Road in Lewiston.

For more information about the project or to see regular updates, see their Facebook page at “Auburn1945” or contact Cameron Hartley at camhartley@hotmail.com.

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