No one knows for sure when Lisbon Falls became the hub of the Moxie universe. As with any subject lacking canonical authorization, conjecture becomes commonplace and verification of authenticity is more difficult.
When I left Maine in 1982, for greener pastures, only to return for better opportunities in 1987, the town had somehow become part of the story arc and epicenter of Moxie’s unanticipated resurgence.
Oddly enough, Frank Anicetti (one of Lisbon’s more colorful characters), had become the mayor of Moxietown, with his Kennebec Fruit Company (or “Kennebec’s” to the locals) serving as the world headquarters of a burgeoning movement of people that genuflected at the altar of a product, whose heyday had been the early 20th century.
When I was a kid, Kennebec’s was the place to go if you wanted to load up on an assortment of penny candy. Anicetti, a collector of the arcane, in the truest sense, also had acquired a reputation locally for stocking the bitter concoction, laced with gentian root, known as Moxie. As a youngster, I remember Kennebec’s being jointly run by father and son, both named Frank.
The Anicetti’s store has always held a timeless quality for me and many others that have ventured inside the store with yellow panels, and green trim. Entering the place from Main Street is the equivalent of modern time travel. A visitor is able to walk backwards, down that corridor of time, to an era befitting pre-WWII. The worn floor boards, the various bottles of antique Coca-Cola lining shelves near the ceiling, with hand-lettered 3 X 5 cards, inserted like flags, indicating the part of the world and time period where they were from. The vintage countertop and old-fashioned fountain, are like nothing you’d see in the 21st century. In fact, Kennebec’s seemed strangely out of place, even during the early 1970s, when my friends and I used to ride our bikes downtown, to chug a mug of root beer (an Anicetti family recipe) and buy 25 cents worth of penny candy like Hot Balls, Zotz, and other chemically-enhanced and sugar-saturated candy derivatives.
The Kennebec Fruit Company, was founded by Frank’s Italian immigrant grandfather, who brought his knowledge of fruit vending to America and Lisbon Falls, parlaying that skill into a successful business. Later, his father, would take over the business and eventually, young Frank fell into the business, a 75-year-old tradition, which he’s continued into the new century.
While some locals cast sidelong glances when discussions originate about Anicetti and his current exalted status with Moxie aficionados from away, the popularity of his store and his own personal magnetism is obvious during each summer’s annual festival celebrating the soft drink, which seems to grow every year. Now, over 20,000 people flock to Lisbon Falls the second Saturday each July, for no other reason than to watch the Moxie parade and congregate on Main Street afterwards to sample Anicetti’s Moxie ice cream, watch Moxie-chuggin’ contests, listen to music, and watch the fireman’s muster.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve stopped by Kennebec’s and availed myself of Anicetti’s willingness to share his knowledge of local history. Each time I’ve stopped by, I picked up new tidbits about the town and Moxie. When I figured out I wanted to write a new book about Lisbon Falls and Moxie, I realized that it was time for a formal interview with Anicetti. My idol for collecting people’s stories has always been legendary Chicago talk show host and author, Studs Terkel. Terkel’s interview partner has always been the tape recorder, so if cassette tapes are good enough for him, then I decided I would visit Anicetti, armed with my $25 Radio Shack recorder and my questions.
The day I visited Anicetti’s Kennebec Fruit Company, President’s Day 2008, torrential rain and associated roof issues were Anicetti’s order of the day. Stepping inside the historic store, I was greeted by the sound of steady drops of water falling from the classic tin punch roof, into buckets scattered about the store. The building’s roof, heavy with the winter’s overly abundant snow pack, was experiencing the same problems that many others were up against during this tough winter of 2007-2008.
“I’m waiting on a call from the roofer, so I hope you don’t mind if I have to dump buckets from time to time,” said Anicetti.
Pleased to have him give me his time for the interview, leaking roof and bucket emptying were minor intrusions, from my perch on one of the stools alongside the soda fountain.
[To learn more about why Moxie matters, Lisbon Falls, and the Moxie Festival, as well as other bits of new information about the 125-year-old soft drink, pick up a copy of Jim Baumer’s Moxietown, from RiverVision Press. Don’t delay, as the book is sure to sell out quickly.
You can read about Jim Baumer’s signing schedule and appearances, here.]