Casting MDI’s Net of Influence

Published February 15, 2023 | Written by emily cough | Edited by bhhs staff
Photo of Alessandro Fabbri's red leather cigarette case.

When you think of our small island, what do you think of? Balmy summers? Chilly winters? A booming vacation destination? 

How about the net of influence we’ve cast? Have you ever wondered about the impact of our small island, and what we’re capable of? 

We take pride in the fact that our island has always been a destination for visitors, summer residents, and like-minded individuals. As you can tell from a previous Way Back Wednesday, folks that have lived here or those who chose to come here for any reason at all, do so to create better opportunities, not only for themselves but for humankind as a whole. You can see this with the Jackson Laboratory, College of the Atlantic, and excellent blue ribbon schools; this is a place of intellectuals and hard working individuals who love this island for all it has to offer. 

But why mention this at all? Well, this week on Way Back Wednesday, we want to focus on a man who was responsible for creating a radio tower that helped with crucial war efforts during World War I. 

Alessandro Fabbri was a New York native, but like many others, his family owned a summer “cottage,” the Buonriposo, and would come here to beat the stifling city heat. And not only that, but he has ties to our lovely La Rochelle as well. As you may know (or if you don’t, here’s a brief history of La Rochelle!), George Bowdoin was a partner and Treasurer for J.P. Morgan. Fabbri’s brother, Ernesto, and their uncle Egisto, also worked for J.P. Morgan, as an associate and partner, respectively. The Fabbri family was very influential and were members of the Morgan social circle in Bar Harbor. 

When the First World War broke out, the world descended into chaos but for three years, the United States had stayed neutral in the war. It wasn’t until the sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmermann telegram that public opinion seemed to shift. At this point, there was no escaping the war; neutrality and diplomacy were holding actions, and it was only a matter of time before the U.S. would be pulled into the war. 

So, on April 6, 1917, Congress officially declared war against Germany, firmly taking its stance on the conflict. 

Before the war, Fabbri was a licensed radio amateur and had built a radio station on Otter Cliffs.  So, soon after we had entered the war, Fabbri was eager to donate his radio station for service in the war effort; however the Navy declined as Fabbri was a civilian. Of course, Fabbri wouldn’t let his hard work and dedication be stripped from him, considering he was the one who cleared the surrounding land, built the station and outfitted it, so the U.S. gave him a commission in the Naval Reserve and he was named Officer-in-Charge at the station. On August 28 of the same year, the Otter Cliffs Radio Station was commissioned.

The site of the station was the prime spot for communication; there was no nearby man-made noise to clutter the airwaves and it had a clear path without any obstruction across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. On Fabbri’s memorial overlooking the Otter Cliffs, it reads “that under his direction the station became the most important and efficient station in the world.” Who would’ve guessed our small island could’ve played a part and been so influential in the war?! If you’d like to learn more about the station and to see some excellent photos of it in 1919, head here: https://www.navy-radio.com/commsta/otter.htm

Fortunately, we are proud to say in our collection at Bar Harbor Historical Society, we have Lt. Fabbri’s cigarette case, given to him during Christmas 1917 by “‘The Boys’ of the Otter Cliffs Radio Station.” In it still are five hand-rolled cigarettes and with the inscription, “We transmit to you this wireless message of our boundless love and confidence.” 

Though the radio station was deconstructed in 1934, we still have countless photos of the station and crew, as mentioned above and through our gallery below, and we’re grateful to share a piece of Bar Harbor’s history with the world. Who knows how the tides of the war would’ve shifted, if not for Fabbri? 

To view our collection of photos and items, including mentions of Fabbri and the Otter Cliffs Radio Station, please head to our archives, https://bhhs.digitalarchive.us/find?query=&view=4

If you’d like to stop by the museum when we open on May 26th, be sure to see the Fabbri items on display! Become a member to have free admission for the year: https://barharborhistorical.membership.veevartapp.com/membership/view/join

See you next week!