Spring Cleaning Reveals a Rucksack Mystery

story and photos by Jim Flint
The rucksack’s contents (clockwise from the lower left): mess kit/fry pan, aluminum canteen and cup, mirror, stainless steel salt shaker, collapsible cup, shoe brush, cup lid, soap container, sewing kit, and coin purse.

CRAFTSBURY – For many Vermonters, the pandemic spurred a wave of home cleanup and improvement projects. Last spring, I took on the garage of our house in Craftsbury Village, cleaning my way from front to back. After sorting a tangled assortment of garden supplies and sweeping the floor, I looked toward the rafters. Something caught the corner of my eye.

This Boy Scout canvas rucksack from the early 1940s was discovered in the rafters of a garage in Craftsbury Village.

Using a step ladder, I reached up and pulled down a dusty old rucksack. The outside of the canvas bag had a Boy Scouts of America emblem. Below the emblem were the letters LIEN printed in red. I carefully loosened the straps of the vintage pack. Inside was a collection of scouting gear which included an aluminum canteen, a mess kit, and a supply pouch filled with personal care items.

I wondered who the rucksack belonged to and how it ended up stored in our garage. The first clue was soon revealed: an identification card signed by Donald S. Lien, Division 6, Regiment 159, Company 13.

Being curious, I searched the internet. I found Donald’s brother, Ralph Lien, who lives in North Carolina, and talked with him by phone. Ralph indicated that his brother was still alive and living in a nursing home in Florida. I attempted to reach Donald by phone but was unable to get through.

Ralph Lien explained to me that his parents owned an inn for several years on Craftsbury Common. Donald spent summers in Craftsbury as a young adult, helping out at the inn. Donald also took on jobs as an interior decorator. He wallpapered and painted for local people. I pondered whether Donald may have done work at our house in Craftsbury Village.

A scout’s sewing kit with thread, scissors, and buttons.

My research paused until March 2021, when I learned that several decades of Hardwick Gazette newspapers are available in digital form. The Gazette archives can be searched through the website, newspapers.com. During the 19th and 20th centuries, each town covered by the Gazette had a social correspondent who shared about the comings and goings of residents and visitors.

Searching the digital archives for Donald S. Lien revealed more clues. After a stint in the U.S. Army, Donald spent summers in Craftsbury from 1949 to 1972. He coordinated Craftsbury’s town baseball team and acted in the town’s summer Shakespeare performances, which were directed by the legendary Miss Jean Simpson. Donald also helped to organize the games of skill at Craftsbury’s annual Old Home Day celebration.

Digging deeper into the archives, I learned that Donald’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Lien, came to Craftsbury from New Brunswick, N.J. Mr. Lien was a chef at Rutgers University, where Mrs. Lien also worked. In the spring of 1948, the Liens purchased the Hearthside Inn on Craftsbury Common. They ran the inn for ten years. In the spring of 1958, Hearthside was purchased by Sterling School, the predecessor of Sterling College. The inn became Sterling’s Admissions Building and still serves that purpose.

On June 5, 1958, the local news correspondent reported that Mrs. Lien packed her possessions from the Hearthside Inn and moved to East Craftsbury for the summer. The Liens returned to Craftsbury for the next five summers, staying in different places. The sale of the Hearthside Inn may explain how Donald Lien’s rucksack found its way to Craftsbury Village.

Donald Lien’s leather coin purse.

My wife Barb and I live on the corner of Cemetery Road, adjacent to the Craftsbury General Store. From the time that it was built in 1931 until the summer of 1975, our Cape Cod house had a large unfinished attic. A search of the Craftsbury land records determined that the house was vacant between owners during the early summer of 1963. This was also Mr. and Mrs. Lien’s last summer in Craftsbury. Perhaps Donald or his parents conveniently stored a few possessions in the attic. The tan rucksack could have easily been left behind.

A clue provided by my neighbor, Bob Brown, led to Kent Young, who works for the Town of Craftsbury. Kent shared with me that he helped his dad, Henry Young, build the garage during the summer of 1975. The crew also raised the back roof of the house, added a shed dormer, and turned the attic into living space.

Donald Lien’s leather coin purse.

During the construction process, Donald Lien’s Boy Scout rucksack was likely discovered in the eaves of the attic. Henry Young was an industrial arts teacher at Lamoille Union High School. He would have recognized the rucksack as having intrinsic value. Perhaps Henry tucked it up in the rafters of the garage for safekeeping. And there the pack stayed for 45 more years, waiting for its mysterious origin to be pondered anew.

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