If you’re alive today and grew up anywhere other than the six states in New England, chances are you’ve never tasted the bubbly weirdness of Moxie.
You may know the word “moxie,” and maybe even remember that magician Penn Jillette named his daughter Moxie CrimeFighter, but if you didn’t spend your winters under piles of fleece and your summers following the Red Sox, Moxie is likely not in your palette profile. And if you’ve never been to Union, Maine, then you’ve probably never seen a 30-foot-tall wooden replica of a vintage bottle of this “Healthful Beverage.”
There is no way around it: Moxie is an acquired taste. It’s been described as everything from bubblegummy, to carbonated motor oil, to liquid telephone pole. One Mainer, relatively new to the elixir, says it’s like root beer spiked with vinegar. Despite the detractors, advocates love it, are ready to defend it, drink it, sell it, and sometimes obsessively collect it.
The soda dates back to 1876 when it was sold as “Moxie Nerve Food,” but the Bottle House is much younger. Built in 1906 by the promotions department to make a splash at the New England Food Fair, they constructed the 32-foot tall by 10-foot in diameter Moxie stand to look just like the bottle. One local paper was so taken with it, they called the stand a “monument to nerve building” (get it?).
The Bottle House was a vagabond for a couple of years after the fair, even traveling down to Coney Island where it loomed over the famous Luna Park for a while. Finally, in 1910, the big boy settle down in New Hampshire at the Pine Island Amusement Park, where it held court for about a decade. It was eventually abandoned as a promotional item, and it lived out a comfortable retirement across Pine Island Pond in private hands.
That is, until the 1980s, when it was abandoned again as the property changed hands a couple of times. In 1999, a few stalwarts of the New England Moxie Congress (a local band of Maine Moxie boosters) wanted to save the Bottle House, and they raised enough money to have it disassembled and moved to Union. There it looms once again, this time over the Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage, anchoring their collection of Moxie memorabilia.
Know Before You Go
The Moxie Bottle House lives permanently at the Union, Maine Fairgrounds, and is open to the public during July and August, Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 4pm. Their hours extend during the Union Fair dates (August 20 - 27 for the 2016 Fair).
Union is about 75 miles northeast of Portland. The Fairgrounds are off ME-Rt. 17. Turn onto Common Road, and Fairgrounds Lane is just down the road.
Donations towards the continued restoration of the Bottle House, and the upkeep of its home at the Matthews Museum, are gratefully accepted.