For $50 and a Few Well-Chosen Words, Jane Pieriboni's Maine Manse Could Be Yours

UPDATED 05/17/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/17/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT

Why I want to win a huge old house in Maine: Because a huge old house with 20 rooms, stained-glass windows, four fireplaces and oak floors is better than a tiny modern apartment with one room, cardboard walls, cold concrete floors and neighbors who play disco at 3 a.m. Because Maine has trees and flowers and smells nice and this crowded, smelly old city doesn't. And because it will cost me only 50 bucks. That's why I want to win a huge old house in Maine.

Such an essay and a $50 entry fee could win you the 85-year-old Victorian manse at 103 Lincoln Street in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, the kind of small town (pop. 4,334) that still has a main street called Main Street. "How many couples do you know who will ever be able to buy any kind of home, let alone one like this?" asks the current owner, Jane Pieriboni. "That's what makes this whole contest so exciting. It's part of the great American dream."

Pieriboni, 39, dreamed up the "Great House Giveaway Essay Contest" because she couldn't afford to keep the house up herself. Mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities run her $627 a month—"too damn much," says Pieriboni, since the restaurant she owns, Deli Delight, nets her only $500 a month. What with sky-high interest rates and a depressed real estate market, Pieriboni didn't think she would be able to sell the house. "The situation was tough," she relates. "So one day a friend and I were kidding around and she said, 'Hey, why not raffle the place off?' " Games of chance with prizes worth more than $6,500 are illegal in Maine, but a game of skill, like an essay contest, is another matter.

Pieriboni had her lawyer draw up the rules: Entries must be 125 words or less and be mailed by Sept. 1. They will be judged on "wit, style and grammatical accuracy" by a "former editor of a national literary magazine" in New York. Even Jane doesn't know who he is—her lawyer is supervising the contest. Essays must be typewritten and will become the property of Pieriboni, who may someday put them in a book. The state Attorney General approved of the contest, and so do Jane's neighbors. "What with the way the economy is going," says Deli Delight co-owner Kathy Canevari, "it's a good way for people to get their minds off things and have some hope." A Yankee logger agrees: "Ol Jane's on the stick all right."

Letters started pouring in as soon as the contest was announced in the local Piscataquis Observer last month. Forty entries arrived in two days, including six essays and $300 from one man alone. Two GIs called from Japan to see if they could enter. "We'll accept a check in yen, I guess," says Jane.

Pieriboni admits the house needs work—"wallpaper, paneling, maybe another bathroom" (there are four). But she points with pride to the house's best features: 5,000 square feet, French hand-carved ceilings, marble sinks, a hidden room in the turret and a two-and-a-half-acre lot with a carriage house. The place does not, however, come equipped with a ghost. "The only things that go bump in the night around here are my kids," says Jane, who has two children (Anissa, 14, and Johnaric, 11), two dogs and two cats.

Pieriboni, a Connecticut native and former teacher, and her ex-husband, John, bought the house in 1981 for $25,000 and spent $8,000 on repairs. John's devotion to the renovation is part of what led to their recent "very amicable" divorce. "He was so in love with the place that it got the better of him," says Jane. Pieriboni has stipulated that a minimum of 1,000 entries must be received to make the contest valid (otherwise, entry fees will be refunded), and she hopes to clear at least $10,000. "That's all I need to do what I want," she says, "get some land on the outskirts of town, do some farming and gardening, and put the kids through school. I like the small-town life. If a neighbor's in trouble, people will help out. It's that kind of place." Though she has no role in the judging, that's the spirit Jane would look for in a winning essay. "You have to think about why you want to come here," she says, "the lure of the sparse population, the mountains, the lakes. This house would be perfect for anybody who's got the ability, the energy and the dream."

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