PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Donn Fendler's story of survival after getting lost on Mount Katahdin as a 12-year-old in 1939 was made famous in the book "Lost on a Mountain in Maine." His dramatic story is being retold 72 years later for a new generation, this time in a graphic novel.
"Lost Trail, Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness" brings Fendler's harrowing ordeal to life in a comic-book format in hopes of engaging new readers.
Back then, Fendler's story captivated the nation as hundreds of volunteers searched for him in the wilds of Maine. To this day, the 85-year-old Fendler visits schools around the state and talks to students about how he survived in the wilderness for nine days after he got separated from family members and friends while hiking Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
AP Photo - - Donn Fendler chats with a young reader at a book signing in Bangor, Maine. Fendler’s story of survival after getting lost on Mount Katahdin as a 12-year-old was made famous in the 1939 book, “Lost on a Mountain in Maine.” Seventy-two years later, his story being retold, this time in comic book format, under the title “Lost Trail, Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness.”
AP Photo - - Liam Doughty flips through his autographed copy of “Lost Trail, Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness,” at a book signing by the author in Bangor, Maine. Donn Fendler’s story of survival after getting lost on Maine’s Mount Katahdin as a 12-year-old was made famous in the 1939 book, “Lost on a Mountain in Maine.”
"I tell every one of them they have something inside them they don't know they have," Fendler said. "When it comes up to a bad situation, they're going to find out how tough a person they are in the heart and the mind - it's called the will to live."
Fendler's family, from Rye, N.Y., was spending that summer at Sebasticook Lake in Newport.
On July 17, Fendler got separated from the others while hiking Katahdin, setting off a search by state troopers, National Guardsmen, paper mill employees, loggers and guides. As the days passed, many feared the worst and hopes faded for a happy ending, according to newspaper accounts. Calls of concern poured into the governor's office from around the country.
But Fendler used his Boy Scout training to follow a stream. He showed up July 26 at a sporting camp on the East Branch of the Penobscot River near Stacyville, more than 30 miles from where he'd started. Cut and bruised, emaciated and shoeless, Fendler had survived by eating berries and drinking stagnant water. He had lost most of his clothing and hallucinated because of hunger and fatigue.
He later received a medal from President D. Roosevelt at the White House, was feted at parades and was featured in an article in Life magazine. A book about his experience, Joseph Egan's "Lost on a Mountain in Maine," was published in 1939 and was once required reading in all Maine elementary schools.
Fendler's story still resonates today, said Lynn Plourde, a children's book author from Winthrop who wrote "Lost Trail" with Fendler. Plourde and Fendler have known each other for years, and she approached him a couple of years ago about making a picture book about his experience.
After pitching the idea to Down East Books, the publisher said it'd be interested in a graphic novel instead. With illustrator Ben Bishop providing intricate artwork, they produced a 72-page book that arrived on bookstore shelves this month.
The book follows Fendler's account from beginning to end, including detailed drawings of the wilderness and his chance encounters with deer, a huge bear and the mythical "Pamola," a protector of Katahdin that, according to Penobscot Indian myth, has the head of a moose, the body of man and the wings and feet of an eagle.
"Lost Trail" also includes information not found in "Lost on a Mountain in Maine." It relates what happened before and after he got lost and includes newspaper accounts as the search progressed. It also includes a question-and-answer session with Fendler.
Graphic novels have grown in popularity in recent years and aren't just for comic-book heroes and fantasy any more, Plourde said. The format is being used for historical narratives as well.
"More and more stories are being told in graphic-novel fashion because kids just latch onto them," Plourde said. "It's perfect because you feel like you're there with Don, you feel like you're looking over his shoulder."
Fendler nowadays spends winters in Clarksville, Tenn., and summer and fall in Maine on the same lake where his family vacationed in the 1930s. He has climbed Katahdin once, in 1977, since that fateful summer in 1939.
He thinks the new book will complement, but not replace, the original, which is a classic in Maine.
"That book will never die," he said "It just goes on and on and on."