FREEPORT, Maine — He's arguably Maine's best-known native son, right up there with Civil War general Joshua Chamberlain, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and horror writer Stephen King. To his customers, he was simply known as "L.L."
But as outdoors outfitter L.L. Bean celebrates its 100th anniversary, it's still not 100 percent clear what the famous founder's initials stood for. Was it Leon Leonwood Bean, as the company claimed for decades, or was it Leon Linwood Bean, as his grandson suggests?
The answer appears to be both.
Leon Gorman, L.L.'s grandson, said he was told that his grandfather was born Leon Linwood Bean and that it somehow morphed into Leon Leonwood Bean.
"There was some incident that happened years ago. I can't remember what it was. They misspelled Leon's name from Linwood to Leonwood," Gorman, the company's chairman, said. "L.L. was so taken by the new version of his middle name that he adopted it."
His grave marker sheds no light on his middle-name preference; it says simply, "Leon L. Bean." There's no birth certificate, either.
In his autobiography, L.L. Bean talked about having a birth certificate, but no one knows where it is. Kim Sparks, town manager in Greenwood, where Bean was born, said a birth certificate can't be located. And the state archives don't have a copy, either.
"The town has lost it somewhere, along with quite a few other records," said Blaine Mills, president of the historical society in Greenwood. "I've never seen it."
In 1872, when Bean was born, only about half of Maine's births were recorded, and the records were often kept in homes of the town clerks, and transferred from home to home, said Art Dostie, of the Maine State Archives. It wasn't until 20 years after Bean's birth that the state began keeping birth records in Augusta, Dostie said.