Monday, October 08, 2007

Road trip with the Vermont boys

Boy howdy, I know how to spend a vacation week…scraping the dead paint off my house in preparation for painting, going to the doctor, taking the car to the mechanic… Wow!

I did do one cool thing, though. I got together with my friends Steve Bissette and Joe Citro for a manly, but magical mystery tour in Vermont. There were no cigars, drinks, or strippers, but plenty of satisfying oddness.

I would hate to be like many of the younger people I know whose smug, dismissive view of the world prevents amazement: “Talk to the hand” and “Whatever.”

My buddy Joe is one of the nation’s experts on the strange and unexplained and has been writing about New England ghosts, monsters, and legends for years. His latest book is “Weird New England” available at Barnes and Noble bookstores in New England or on the web at

Check out Joe’s blog. The link is included in my list.

After fortifying ourselves with a hearty lunch, we took off from Steve’s house in Windsor (home of the state’s longest covered bridge) for nearby White River Junction. If you read Steve’s blog at all, you’re aware that White River Junction is the home of the Center for Cartoon Studies, the school where he teaches.

Frankly, WRJ is one of those communities that is propped up by a key employers, a large Veteran’s Hospital. To be charitable, it’s a blank canvas ready for recreation. If you’re not charitable, it’s bordering on a ghost town.

David Fairbanks Ford is obviously someone who sees the town in the former light. His Main Street Museum is the kind of institution that could be part of a re-invention of the town into an artist’s area (along with the CCS).

The curator's car at the Main Street Museum is a rolling piece of conceptual art.

We went there as our first stop and I have to say I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. Ford is actually a serious curator whose own collection is featured in a museum designed to challenge how one views museums. He mixes “real” artifacts, such as an actual chunk of the Alamo – something which offended one Texan tourist while we were there – to a carefully framed umbrella without its cloth covering that is presented in the same way one would see a fossil skeleton of an animal.

The former shot is the "sea monster." This way to the egress!

Ford’s presentation of a “sea monster” is done in the way one might have expected from P.T. Barnum. We know it’s a fake but Ford won’t admit it.

Ford celebrates artifacts that would be tossed out by anyone else. Having worked in two museums (The Basketball Hall of Fame and Wistariahurst in Holyoke, MA) I understand that one makes an object relevant by the context in which it’s presented. Ford plays with the contexts and with our expectations of what should be in a “museum.”

The place is a lot of fun for those who are willing to take Ford’s ride. The Texans – especially the one who was wearing a “Bush Country” tee shirt – seemed just a little confused.

We then hit the road for South Royalton and one of the places Joe described in his book (written with Diane E. Foulds) “Curious New England.” Throughout our region there are stone structures that were not made by the colonists nor the native people who lived here. I’ve been to the best known of these structures, “America’s Stonehenge” in New Hampshire, and it was impressive.

Equally impressive was the stone chamber that Joe led us to that was on property adjacent to the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial. Smith is the man who founded the Mormon faith.

The structure is in a strip of woods that creates an informal border between two properties. When approaching it, it appears to be a knoll in the woods and would be easy to pass by.

Steve takes a look inside.

However, the chamber is clearly apparent from the side with its entrance.

Featuring incredible mortar-free workmanship, the chamber was absolutely clean. There were no signs of vandalism. No footprints could be seen. Animals had not made this place a regular den. There was no layer of leaves; just a few scattered ones. There were not even spider webs.

The only object in the chamber was a single crow feather centered on the floor.

outside and in

It was amazing, and Joe said there were seven more of these structures all within a mile or so.

Get a copy of Joe’s book for more details.

While we were at the site, we spoke of whether or not Smith knew of the chamber as a child. It was apparently on family property. Joe wondered if its existence colored Smith’s ideas of the world later in life when he believed there were civilizations in North America prior to and or along side native people.

We drove through the Smith memorial area and then took a Vermont highway through part of the state neither crusty Vermonter had visited before.

It was a great day.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

1 comment:

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