January 28, 2021

Bangor to get explorer’s memorial> New Bedford artisan commemorating Portuguese who sailed up Penobscot

BANGOR — Come fall, Kenduskeag Stream Park may be the site of a memorial to a 16th century Portuguese explorer believed to have set foot in Bangor more than 450 years ago.

The project has been in the planning stages for nearly two years, organized by attorney Edmund Dinis of New Bedford, Mass.

City councilors on the municipal operations committee heard the latest report on the project recently from Stan Moses, assistant director of community and economic development.

The artisan for the monument would be Julio Vascaueelos, a third-generation concrete artisan from Portugal who is construction supervisor for the New Bedford Public Works Department.

On a recent trip to Massachusetts, Moses stopped in New Bedford to see a dozen monuments designed and built by Vascaueelos.

Moses told the committee that the monuments, which include a Holocaust memorial, were “wonderful works of art. I was absolutely amazed. I’d never seen anything like that in concrete before.”

Like many of those in New Bedford, Bangor’s monument — a gift from the city — would be “a monument similar to a moderate-size headstone, cast in concrete and polished,” Moses said.

Many of the markers he saw showed “colored fibers mixed in, looking like grains of natural stone,” he said. “Some of them were really quite breathtaking.”

Vascaueelos would cast the base in four square sections for shipping to Bangor, Moses said. The base would then be mounted on crushed rock by the Kenduskeag, on a grassy area near the intersection of Broad and Exchange streets.

A bronze plaque on the monument would read: “Estevan Gomez, a Portuguese navigator sailing for Spain in search of the Northwest Passage, landed on these shores in 1525.”

Bangor’s role would be to excavate and prepare the site, and to help bring the marker and its base from New Bedford.

In proposing that Bangor accept the monument to Gomez — also known as Estavao Gomes and Don Esteban Gomez — Edmund Dinis provided the city with information from Samuel Eliot Morison’s “The European Discovery of America” and from “Woodsmen and Whigs” by Abigail Zelz and Marilyn Zoidis.

Gomez also was discussed in “Maine: The Pine Tree State from Prehistory to the Present,” edited by Richard W. Judd, Edwin A. Churchill and Joel W. Eastman and published in 1995 by the University of Maine Press.

Gomez was looking for “el Cathayo oryental,” and sailed up the Penobscot River in hopes that it might be the Northern Strait.

His vessel was a 50-ton caravel, authorized by King Charles V for outfitting and supplies costing about $5,800 in gold.

Reaching the “head of navigation” at Bangor, Morrison said, Gomez decided the waterway was only a “famous river with a great flow of water.” And although there was iron pyrite — fool’s gold — there was no real gold. “No hay alla de oro,” Gomez wrote.

Mayor Joseph Baldacci has spoken with the New Bedford mayor about the project, which may be completed and dedicated this fall.

“We do have people of Portuguese descent living in Bangor,” pointed out Councilor Patricia Blanchette.

Dinis has served in several capacities in state and county government, Moses said, and is the owner of Spanish-language and Portuguese-language radio stations.

“He is a person who is trying to preserve the Portuguese culture in this country,” he added.

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