Vienna Historical Society
Preserving the History of Vienna and Mount Vernon, Maine

Helen Caldwell Cushman

                                                                                  Helen Caldwell Cushman  
                                                                1905 - 1986     


Helen Lannigan was born in Massachusetts in 1905, the daughter of legendary University of Virginia Coach Henry “Pop” Lannigan and his wife Helena White, and grew up between the two family homes – one in Virginia the other in Mount Vernon.  While a student at the William and Mary College, Helen met her future husband, Erskine Caldwell.  The couple married in 1925 and moved to the Lannigan home in Maine so Caldwell could pursue writing.  The home was purchased by  Helen’s father in 1906, and was originally built in the early 1800s by Mount Vernon pioneer, Noah Greeley.  It still stands today on Highway 41 near Ithiel Gordon Road, and was until recently owned by Helen's grandson, David Caldwell.


Erskine Caldwell’s only source of income at this time was writing reviews for books, and as a result, he accumulated a huge supply of books.  The Caldwells moved south and opened a bookstore in Portland near Congress Square.  Erskine’s writing had been only moderately successful and while in Portland had generated much controversy, but very little money.  They moved back to Mount Vernon and in 1932 Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre were published.  Erskine Caldwell’s life in Maine was not a happy one and in 1936 he left Helen and Maine for good.  Helen remained in the Mount Vernon home with their three children: Erskine, Jr., Dabney and Janet, and continued to live there until her death at age 81. 


Helen married Norman Cushman in 1938, and after years of supporting Erskine Caldwell in his pursuit of a writing career, Helen became famous in her own right.  She was a journalist for the Kennebec Journal, Waterville Sentinel and others, as well as being the editor of the Livermore Falls Advertiser.  She had her own radio talk show out of Rumford, specializing in human interest and local folklore.   It is the latter for which Helen is remembered most – she was a great storyteller.  Most of her stories were on the eerie side and based on real happenings in the Thirty Mile River:


“All kinds of fascinating mysteries abound on Thirty Mile River if we take time to seek for them – from haunted houses and sites of several gruesome murders to unexplained things like the strange stone in the wall near the road that runs from Readfield Depot to Mount Vernon.”


                                                                                                                                      Helen Cushman's House

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