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|The apartment house on the corner of Hancock and Essex Streets where William S. Cohen was born.|
William S. Cohen was born in Bangor, Maine, in 1940.
Cohen’s early years have been the topic of several of his
poems published in Of Sons and Seasons in 1978 and A
Baker’s Nickel in 1986, including a poem in the earlier volume
titled "Hancock Street" which begins:
The place where
I was born.
So many years
it stood tall and brown
on that street of immigrants
who spoke in broken accents
and unshattered hopes...
The poem continues with specific images of activity, poverty, and decay in the neighborhood. Within the introduction to the poem Cohen wrote, "Hancock Street was one of the poorer sections of the city. It was filled with families from the 'old country...' a microcosm of a part of life that can be found in any city, in any country. People locked into a life cycle of struggle and survival, who rarely escaped. It was a street littered with men who had failed, who never got started, who sat on doorsteps and let the sun sink into their haggard faces flushed red with wine and filled with veins that had broken and spread wide from the alcohol that they strained from canned heat through soiled handkerchiefs."
The ethnic diversity and poverty of the area have been noted by other historians as well. Within the "Ethnic Bangor" section of a six part series written for the Bangor Daily News in 2007, "Rediscovering Bangor's Past," reporters Wayne Reilly, Alicia Anstead, and Julie Harris noted, "Most of the immigrants were clustered in the congested neighborhood around Hancock and York streets on Bangor's east side." A caption accompanying a photograph from the 1930s explained, "Groceries, bars and other ethnic businesses such as Chason's kosher meat store on Hancock Street punctuated the downtown and residential areas. A Chinese laundry first appeared in Bangor on Park Street in 1895 and within 20 years, six operated here. Victims of urban renewal, Bangor's traditional ethnic neighborhoods no longer exist."
There are several photographs within the William S. Cohen Papers of the family home and surrounding businesses on Hancock Street taken before they were torn down as a part of Bangor’s Urban Renewal movement in the 1970s.