Vermont Celebrates Independence

It’s hard to beat Vermont for an authentic small-town July 4 experience. I’m not talking about the great metropolitan celebrations on offer in Burlington and Montpelier on the 3rd, in which relative fortunes are spent on fireworks in hope of convincing us (successfully, I admit) that we’re getting something back for our property taxes.

4th of July, East Corinth, Vermont

I’m talking about parades with kids oohing and aahing over the town fire truck, sacred smoke rising from chickens being barbecued in the Volunteer Fire Department’s big meshed-over pits on the green, homemade rhubarb and blueberry pies, and the chance for a trip back into history.
You find these in places like East Corinth and Peacham, little settlements tucked away north of I-89 and west of I-93, on roads you’d normally never travel unless you knew somebody there or, as Robert Frost says, “let a guide direct you/Who only has at heart your getting lost.”
East Corinth (pronounced KrINTH, in case you go there and don’t want to sound like a flatlander) is the largest village in the Town of Corinth, chartered in 1764, population 1,367, which also includes the settlements of Corinth Corner, West Corinth, Corinth Center, South Corinth, Cookeville, and Goose Green, “so named,” says the Town’s website, “for the color painted on the feet of the geese being driven—as in, walked or herded—to markets in Boston.”
If you’re a Tim Burton fan you’ve probably seen East Corinth, the setting for his 1988 movie Beetlejuice. Vermont may be lily-white, demographically speaking, but Corinth was home to Alexander Twilight, the first African-American elected to a state legislature anywhere. And for all its small population, Corinth has two historical museums, entirely run by volunteers: the Academy Museum and the Agricultural and Trades Museum, which host musical “cafés” where you can attend the likes of a seminar on the Delta blues from a local resident who played with the old bluesmen on MacDougal Street.
On this sticky, sunny Fourth, we joined our good friend Lois Jackson, President of the Corinth Historical Society, for a chicken dinner from which we emerged replete if even stickier, and for an over-enthusiastic tour of the Society’s silent auction offerings. This netted us a foot-bath (a sort of portable, fully accessorized mini-Jacuzzi), two dishtowels depicting fuzzy Venetian palazzos and gondoliers, a pint of local Dark Amber maple syrup for half the store-bought price, and a CD of the day’s entertainers, the Wall-Stiles, four local rockabillies who write all their own stuff and make you want to dance and sing along. The youth softball team was selling sodas, kids were bouncing on an inflatable gym, and former farmers like my spouse were drooling over the vintage John Deeres.
North and west from Corinth to Peacham, we stopped in our tire-tracks at the edge of the town cemetery at the sight of a woman in nineteenth century costume, being followed by a crowd. She was leading the Peacham Historical Association’s twice-yearly Ghost Walk, which this year featured Civil War soldiers and their families. Locals in period costume read from the soldiers’ letters and memoirs.

Permanent Peachamites

We sat enthralled and horrified as the late Mark Wheeler of the First Vermont Cavalry, sitting in a cane-bottomed chair by his tombstone in a straw hat, collarless shirt and gold-rimmed glasses, told us of his time at the infamous Andersonville Prison. The original Mr. Wheeler survived the ordeal and wrote his memoirs in the 1880s, when he could at last bear to think about those days and the horrors he witnessed.
The tree-shaded Peacham cemetery, in the heart of the village, slopes gently northeast with stunning views of the surrounding hills. With all the rain we’ve been having and the season still early, the green almost hurt your eyes. It was nice to imagine that the ancestors of the present-day Peachamites were enjoying the Fourth too.
To cap the day off, we stopped at the Green Top Market on the Cady’s Falls Road in Morristown and picked up a quart of strawberries.
“Where are they from?” we asked the sales clerk.
“Not sure. An older gentleman from Eden. His name is Stub, or something like that.”
Could it be Ernest “Stub” Earle? By golly, it was.
Stub Earle, former State representative from the town of Eden, known to his colleagues as the Earl of Eden back in the late 1970s, had an Elvis pompadour, a Vermont accent you could cut with a knife, and sometimes carried his personal spittoon onto the House floor. He also had a knack for cutting through the fog of legislative rhetoric and saying, in words of one syllable, what everyone else was thinking but didn’t dare give voice to. He was probably a Republican, but back then such things didn’t matter much. In his old age, he’s taken to raising strawberries and vegetables and bottling his own brand of pickles.
It was heartening to know that Stub, like his pickles, has been remarkably well preserved. As have Vermont’s small-town July Fourth traditions.

Category: Vermont, Vermont and Brooklyn One comment »

One Response to “Vermont Celebrates Independence”

  1. mk

    Stub Eden of Earle!

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