The identity of the so-called Valentine’s Day bandit, responsible for leaving hundreds of red hearts in downtown Portland for more than four decades, has been revealed in death.
Kevin Fahrman, of Falmouth, was chief instigator of a group of feel-good pranksters who struck every year on Feb. 14, family and friends said, a tradition that put smiles on people’s faces while leaving behind an enduring mystery of who was responsible. He was 67 when he died late Thursday.
Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said it was sad to lose such a local treasure “and bittersweet to have him revealed.”
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“The Valentine’s Day bandit has given so much to the Portland community. His gift of love was anticipated by so many each February. I hope the tradition continues — it would be a wonderful tribute to someone who brought love and hope to all of us annually,” the mayor said.
The love and levity started in the mid-1970s before Fahrman took it over in 1979.
Over the years, simple white sheets of paper with large red hearts appeared in Old Portland and in downtown on Feb. 14. The hearts were plastered on storefronts and business windows.
It grew more elaborate over the years, with larger hearts appearing in unusual places, like Fort Gorges in Portland Harbor, and over the entrance of the the Portland Library. This year, a big heart was draped from the city’s tallest building, an 18-floor apartment tower, which is still under construction.
It was a courtship made in heaven — Fahrman loved Portland, and Portland loved him back.
Fahrman was an accomplished photographer, and one of his favorite subjects was SailMaine. Fahrman’s daughter was involved in sailing, and she was one of his subjects.
The Valentine effort went to great lengths.
It was no small feat to put a giant heart on an old fort in the Portland Harbor, reachable only by boat, by the dark of night in February, or from high vantages like the top of an 18-floor apartment building, the state’s largest building.
His wife, Patti Urban, told the Portland Press Herald that she was a Valentine’s Day widow. She said her husband was usually too wiped out from his late-night shenanigans to enjoy the day himself.
Cary Tyson, executive director of Portland Downtown, marveled at the work that was accomplished in one night.
“We have always thought it was one-part magic, one-part sea salt and one-part fairy dust, but that’s just our guess,” he said.