You Gotta Love This Town

The Valentine Phantom has struck again!

If you woke up grumpy in Montpelier on February 14, there’s no way the foul mood would have survived a trip downtown. Just about every storefront along State and Main, and even the City Hall clock in its tower, was plastered with red paper hearts.

Valentine Phantom loves the toy store

The Phantom, or Phantoms, since from the sheer square footage of hearts, there must either be a crew of helpers or the Phantom is on speed—has been practicing his or her brand of benign, joyous vandalism in Montpelier since 2002. One suspects the Phantom’s identity must be known to the local authorities, but they aren’t talking, and neither is anyone else.

We like it that way, and so, apparently, does the Phantom, who seems to live by the Biblical injunction about doing one’s good works in secret, as well as that bumper sticker which tells you to “practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty.”

There’s something magical in the notion of a ghostly, anonymous figure, perhaps wearing an old-fashioned burglar’s mask, flitting from one store window to another in the freezing dead of night for the sole purpose of bringing smiles to people’s faces. The Phantom does not seek fame or credit or thanks. She, or he, is Santa Claus without the commercial PR machine—the embodiment of love, as Santa is the spirit of giving.

A big part of the fun, of course, is the clandestine and mischievous nature of the enterprise. The sense of transgression, the thrill of not getting caught must have been part of the attraction for the incurably romantic perpetrator(s?) in the first year or so. This has long since become a cheerful fiction in which the Montpelier Police Department is happy to play its part, for surely any number of night patrols could have caught the Phantom, uh, red-handed if they had any inclination to do so.

As it is, the Phantom now has his/her/their/its own Facebook Phantom Phan page—put up with the prominent disclaimer that the creator is not the Phantom but a non-anonymous Montpelier resident who just wants to celebrate the Phantom’s work and give people a place to express gratitude—or wistful envy, which was prominently on display in the comments from people who don’t live here.

National as well as local media have been running the story: AP, Bloomberg News, USA Today, Fox News, even ABC7 in Chicago. There’s even a Wikipedia page labeled “Valentine Phantom,” which notes that the Phantom is sometimes referred to as the Valentine Bandit, though the only things stolen seem to be the hearts of those who enjoy the results of the Phantom’s work.

Phantom strikes the craft shop

Montpelier doesn’t always feel like the ideal place to live, especially when you’re navigating icy sidewalks and paying property tax bills during its long, often dark winters. But on Valentine’s Day morning, we who know and love the place are reminded of our town’s prodigious store of social capital. More than one resident waiting to cross the State and Main intersection has been observed looking around at the sea of red hearts with a big goofy smile, saying, “God, I love this town!”

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