Missing Mr. Moxie
As another renown Moxie Festival approaches, ‘Mayor of Moxietown’ Frank Anicetti will be remembered fondly
LISBON — Summer’s arrival is sweet, especially when considering the season’s perceived shortness for anyone living in the far northern reaches of New England. For Moxie fans, summer can only mean one thing — yet another Moxie Festival is waiting at the door, with a trip to what’s become Moxie Central in Lisbon Falls.
On the second Saturday each July, thousands of aficionados descend on the town to pay homage to a unique and distinctly different soft drink with one of Maine’s largest local parades. This is an oddity and a demonstration of the rabid following for an elixir developed 132 years ago by Augustin Thompson, a drink he first called Moxie Nerve Food.
While Thompson may be the originator of Moxie, many regarded one man in Lisbon Falls as the face of the soft drink; that’s why, year after year they returned to what has become the epicenter of the Moxie universe. That man, Frank Anicetti, known as “Mr. Moxie” by legions of Moxie’s most affected followers, is why they found a way to Maine and Lisbon Falls each July and it’s been that way for almost 35 years.
This year will be different, however. Anicetti died in May and the festivities will be without their usual unofficial marshal.
Anicetti was the central player and catalyst in transitioning a sleepy local celebration into the well-known gathering it is today. The town is now a festival destination in the Northeast, with Moxie fans descending on the central Maine town from all over the country and the world.
If you know your Moxie history, you’ll know that it all began with author Frank Potter holding a book signing for his “The Moxie Mystique” at Frank Anicetti’s store in 1982, and again in 1983. In 1984, the Moxie Festival created by some forward-thinking residents gained “official” status, in large measure due to its partnership with the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce (now, the LA Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce) and the support of its director at the time, Chip Morrison.
Anicetti owned the Kennebec Fruit Company, or “Kennebec’s” as it was referred to by locals. But to hardcore fans who dropped by his store in Lisbon Falls throughout the year and then the hordes who started to descend on his store beginning a few weeks before the three-day festival, he was “the Moxie Man” and his store was simply “the Moxie store.”
Those who knew him best — as I’d come to, over the years of teasing out Moxie stories from him — simply referred to him as “Frank,” as in “I stopped by Frank’s today” or “Did you know that Frank has some new Moxie T-shirts for this year’s festival?”
Actually, I’ve known him since I was a kid, when he stocked the best penny candy selection in central Maine and beyond. I’d also stop by the old-fashioned soda fountain for a frosty root beer or a hand-dipped ice cream as a pre-teen. Little did I know that one day I’d become the keeper of the Moxie canon, and Frank would be my prime source of information in updating that narrative.
After I published my first book on baseball in small Maine towns in 2005, I began looking for a new story to tell, one that had local roots with an appeal that would return some value on the labor-of-love investment that inevitably accompanies book projects delving into regional culture.
I distinctly remember my conversation with Frank back in 2006, when I was talking to him about Main Street where his store had been since his grandfather started it in the early 1900s. He knew that history well, but he said to me, “Why don’t you write about Moxie?”
Yes, there was a story there and so much more than I ever imagined. Each year’s festival seemed to get a little bigger. And then, the late Sue Conroy — another key figure in Moxie’s connection to Lisbon — roped me into being part of the festival by joining the planning committee in charge of marketing.
Frank was first and foremost a character, in the best sense of the word. Those who had the privilege of seeing him “in character,” performing his various spiels about Moxie’s magic and its mystique, know exactly what that means.
Norm Karkos, Lisbon native and longtime media personality, covered the festival numerous times, as well as developing feature stories on Moxie, Lisbon Falls and Frank.
“Frank knew how to play that role — as The Moxie Man. No matter how many times you’ve seen him do his thing about the taste of Moxie and how to get over that first hesitation, it never got old,” said Karkos recently.
The term “icon” gets trotted out more than it ought to, but to Karkos and others, Anicetti was worthy of that moniker.
“I can count on my left hand the number of Mainers like Frank — that local icon — who was both a fan of Moxie but also a one-of-a-kind Mainer,” Karkos added.
Karkos, like many others, recognized what some chose to miss or prefer to ignore. To people from away who regularly came to Lisbon Falls each year for the festival, Frank was always a major attraction. Anyone who stood outside Kennebec’s just after the parade ended and saw the line form for his signature Moxie ice cream — often reaching across the street as several hundred people snaked through the narrow rectangular store — knew it.
Jim Jansson has played The Moxie Boy every parade Saturday for the past 15 years. From Connecticut, Jansson is also a member of The New England Moxie Congress. The Moxie Store was always his first stop when he and his wife arrived on Friday, ahead of parade day.
“My wife and I first met Frank at the 2002 Moxie Festival in his store. His personal infatuation with all things Moxie was, for me, infectious,” said Jansson.
Jansson quickly recognized the nostalgic element that greeted visitors when they stepped through the store’s screen door. Many people have said that entering the store felt like they were stepping into a “time machine,” being transported back to what may as well have been 1955.
“There was something about Frank and especially his store, the Kennebec Fruit Company, that was more from the past than the present,” Jansson explained. “Being from away, my first thought was, is Frank and his store normal for Maine?”
As it turned out, both Frank and his store offered a unique flavor — even for Maine — and became an attraction that kept the festival humming along for more than 30 years. It is the flavor that draws people like Jansson and countless others to Lisbon Falls and has transitioned the festival beyond merely being just another small-town affair.
Of course, it’s always easy to edge toward hagiography when portraying people who have passed on, especially those with a bit of notoriety, as Frank had in spades.
Getting to know him as well as I did over the course of the last decade, I learned that obtaining information about Moxie also entailed listening to the latest theory that Frank had on whatever subject he’d become interested in at the time. He was loquacious if he was anything. Holding court daily in his store, he might be waxing philosophical about UFOs, the Lincoln assassination or aspects of local town politics or gossip. I learned to plan for an hourlong visit at least.
Considering society’s instant-communication ways — we now have a president who blurts out whatever’s on his mind via Twitter — Frank was the anti-Twitter, and never really grasped the ways of social media in a world gone mad with it. Not being rushed allowed me to come to appreciate that he was first and foremost a storyteller. I’m sure his love of story is what forged our bond over the years.
Faye Brown knew Frank as well as anyone. While serving as the town’s barber for 50 years, she is also someone who is well-versed in local lore and has many yarns about Frank. She loved to argue with him and knew how to call his bluff.
“Frank could come off as curmudgeonly at times,” said Brown. “It was all a big act, really. So many times he’d be getting worked up about something and I’d just start laughing. Before he knew it, he was laughing along with me,” she said.
Brown mentioned that Frank loved children and was so good around them.
“Whenever a young child came into Frank’s store, he’d just light up,” Brown said. “Frank could control his audience, whether young or old.”
So what’s the future for a Moxie Festival without Mr. Moxie? Brown acknowledged some moments at this first festival without Frank may be dampened. But she was hopeful.
“I’m optimistic that things will continue, even if Frank’s not at the center of it,” she added.
Frank Anicetti was a one-of-a-kind figure, and when it came to Moxie, sometimes larger than life. To many of us, he was the “Mayor of Moxietown.” That office is now vacant and will likely never be filled.
Jim Baumer is a freelance writer and blogger. He writes about Moxie and many other topics at his blog, http://jimbaumerexperience.