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Former Shelburne Falls resident pens children’s book on famed Maine outdoorswoman

  • “Cornelia ‘Fly Rod’ Crosby, Champion of Maine.” Contributed Image

  • Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby (1854-1946) was a remarkable woman for her time: a writer, sportswoman and promoter of all things Maine. Contributed Photo

  • Pam Matthews, author of “Cornelia ‘Fly Rod’ Crosby, Champion of Maine,” dressed as Crosby for a photo with her granddaughter, Zorah, who served as a model for the young Crosby in the book. Contributed Photo

  • Pam Matthews, author of “Cornelia ‘Fly Rod’ Crosby, Champion of Maine,” dressed as Crosby for a photo on an antique train. Contributed Photo

  • WEISBLAT



For the Recorder
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Pam Matthews throws herself into every community in which she lives. For many years, she made her home in Shelburne Falls, where I knew her as one of the leading lights of the West County Players.

Today, she and her husband, Richard, live in Phillips, Maine. There they have started a farmers market, spearheaded the construction of a cell tower to bring more businesses to town, and founded a business association, among other civic activities.

This year, Matthews brought Phillips another gift by publishing a children’s book, her first, about one of her new hometown’s best-known historical figures. Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby (1854-1946) was a remarkable woman for her time or any other: a writer, sportswoman and promoter of all things Maine.

Matthews said she became interested in the book’s subject soon after she moved to Phillips and learned of the Fly Rod Crosby Trail, a walking trail that extends north out of town for many miles.

“I heard about that, and I wanted to know who Fly Rod Crosby was,” Matthews said.

She learned that both the house in which Crosby was born and the one in which she lived in old age were still standing. She located and perused the one previous biography of Crosby, a volume published by the Maine State Museum a couple of decades ago.

“It’s a fairly dense book,” she noted. “Although I found it fairly reasonable, I would guess that many people wouldn’t.”

She asked around in her community and found that not everyone was aware of Crosby’s story.

“Kids didn’t always know who she was,” Matthews said. “I just thought, ‘What a shame. This woman was famous throughout the United States, a journalist whose columns appeared in different papers. … What somebody should do is write an illustrated children’s book that would make her life completely accessible.’”

When no one else wrote the book, she did it herself. And when she couldn’t find a traditional publisher (her manuscript was too long for some children), she published it herself.

Locating an illustrator took time and patience.

“I tried to find a local artist,” she remembered. “Either they didn’t have the style I wanted, or they wanted to get paid a lot, which I couldn’t do.”

She decided to post a notice on Craigslist.

“I basically said I didn’t have a lot of money, but I wanted an artist. I just threw it out there, and Heidi (Kendrick), who is the illustrator, happened to be home sick one day and saw it. She said it was kind of strange because she never looks at Craigslist.”

According to Matthews, Kendrick immediately looked up Fly Rod Crosby on the internet and fell in love.

“She got pretty excited,” the author remembered. “We started to communicate by email, and then we finally met in January. I love her style!”

The two soon-to-be collaborators toured landmarks in Phillips so Kendrick could get a sense of the locale for the book.

“Heidi lives in Portland, which is two hours away from me. We didn’t meet very often,” Matthews explained. “I didn’t actually see all of the artwork until it was pretty much in book form. But I could tell I was going to like it.”

The two found a layout person, a printer and a binder — all from Maine — in time to have the book debut at a local Fly Rod Crosby Day in May.

The book is titled “Cornelia ‘Fly Rod’ Crosby, Champion of Maine.” Because most of the information known about Crosby covers her adult life, Matthews had to invent some details about her subject’s youth.

“I thought Cornelia must have been kind of a feisty little girl,” her biographer said. “I kind of surmised that, for instance, she assumed that she’d better get a good education because her father and brother had both died. ... I tried to keep it all as true as I possibly could.”

The book tells a strong, fascinating story and features more than 30 charming, colorful illustrations. It starts with the hard fact that “Fly Rod” suffered all her life from consumption (the 19th-century term for tuberculosis), the disease from which her father and brother perished.

Her determination to follow doctors’ instructions and spend as much time as possible outside the house led to her career as an outdoorswoman and a promoter of Maine’s natural beauties.

“It is an uplifting kind of thing,” Matthews said of Crosby’s story. “I wanted to show the kids: If you work hard, you can grow up in a small town like this, but it doesn’t mean you can’t achieve things. ... You don’t even have to leave the town!”

The book has garnered a positive reaction from townspeople since its publication.

“People in Phillips are happy to have it,” Matthews said. “It’s rural America, so all of our factories are gone. A lot of our stores are gone. ...

“Dick and I moved here, and we thought, this is a really nice little town. It’s right on the river. It doesn’t have everything … but there are towns throughout American that don’t have anything,” she continued. “We’re fortunate that we have as much as we have here. And we have the beauty of this part of Maine. I kind of wanted to instill a sense of pride in the town of Phillips.”

Her book should interest not just readers in Maine but anyone — adult or young person— who cares about nature and a hopeful story. Interestingly, Matthews said, Cornelia Crosby’s favorite sport, fly fishing, is becoming increasingly fashionable among women in New England.

The new author has talked about the book at a number of “pie and tie” events during which female participants consume coffee and pie, and learn how to tie flies.

“Fly fishing is the new yoga,” she said.

“Cornelia ‘Fly Rod’ Crosby, Champion of Maine” costs $18.95. The book may be ordered, and Pam Matthews may be contacted, via here website at championofmaine.com.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.