This is San Francisco.
This week’s entry: Erwin Cross
What is it about: The tourist who mistook Bangor, Maine for San Francisco and became a local folk hero in the process.
Biggest Controversy: No real controversy here, just a big misunderstanding. Erwin Kreuz was a 50-year-old German brewery worker who spoke no English and had only taken one flight in his life before booking a trip to San Francisco in 1977. The shift ended and did not want to continue for the next leg of the flight. Ask him to enjoy his stay in San Francisco. Kreuz meant that the plane landed in the Golden City and got off the plane. He got into a taxi, asked the driver to “sleep” and was taken to the hotel at Bangor House without realizing that he was in the wrong place that morning.
Strangest Fact: The two Chinese restaurants in Bangor appeared to be compelling replacements for San Francisco’s Chinatown. Cross wandered through Bangor looking for the Golden Gate Bridge and other sights. He still assumed he was in California and had only ended up in the suburbs and only had to make his way downtown. When he came across one of the Chinese restaurants in Bangor, it only confirmed that he was approaching, knowing that Chinatown was an important neighborhood in San Franscico.
We were happiest to learn: Bangor gathered around the lost tourist. It didn’t really sink in that Kreuz had made a mistake when his hotel didn’t let him stay for another night – it was completely booked for the University of Maine’s parents weekend. He called another cab and asked to go to San Francisco, and the cab driver was able to convey that he was on the wrong side of the country. Undaunted, Kreuz went into a bar and asked for directions to San Fran. someone heard him and called his friends who spoke German. They also owned a German restaurant in the nearby old town, where they took Kreuz, explained the situation and promised to help him.
The story goes on
Cross became a local celebrity. He received the key to the city, was a guest of honor at Oktoberfest, met the governor and secretary of state, was made an honorary member of the Penobscot tribe and donated an acre of land in northern Maine. He took part in all kinds of local sightseeing tours and celebrated his 50th birthday in the German restaurant whose owners had helped him. At his own request, he also went to McDonald’s and took turns turning over hamburgers. His story went nationwide and was featured on Time, the Associated Press, the CBS Evening News, and the Today Show. When the San Francisco Examiner picked up the story, the newspaper offered to fly Kreuz to the west coast for the remainder of his trip. He was also given the key to this city, a banquet was held in the real Chinatown, and he was allowed to enter the ring at the Grand National Rodeo. However, Kreuz said he preferred Bangor based on his initial warm welcome and the lack of trees in San Francisco. Back in Germany he said: “If Kennedy can say: I’m a Berliner, then I’m a Bangor.”
We were most unfortunate to learn: Kreuz’s fame was fleeting. He was invited to Bangor the following year to cut ribbon at the local mall (the first to see the cross). But he was fired from his work in the brewery for traveling for a month. Tensions at work had increased when Kreuz struggled against the company trying to capitalize on his fame, and he had admitted in an interview that he drank a competitor’s beer because the brand he made was not evicted near his home. He returned to Bangor again in 1979, this time at his own expense, and found that a German tourist who went to Bangor on purpose was a little less new than one who arrived by chance – the people who had made him a celebrity, had now lost interest. He never returned to America, although he continued to pay taxes on his acres of land.
Best link to another location on Wikipedia: Cross was also introduced to another local Bangor celebrity who is a permanent resident. Andre The Seal was a seal pup found in Penobscot Bay by Harbourmaster Harry Goodridge. He raised the pup, hoping he would be a diving companion, but assumed the seal would soon return to the wild. He never did and acted as a constant companion of Goodridge (the seal, not the harbor master) until his death in 1986. Andre has been the subject of several books, a PBS documentary and the 1994 film Andre, in which a young Tina Majorino stars as a girl with a seal pup trapped in a fishing net.
Further down in the wormhole: Cross acres of land was nowhere near Bangor. It was outside of St. Francis, a very small town on the US-Canada border (the population was less than 500 at the last census and couldn’t have been much larger in 1977). Our longest international border in the world, our border with Canada, is also one of the most peaceful, but it has not always been that way. As the settlers of both countries pushed west, there were several disputes over a western border that was simply a straight line. The last of these was the Pig War, a skirmish over a couple of small islands between Seattle and Vancouver. We’ll repeat the last US-Canada fight next week.