New Hampshire Curiosities

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The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
New Hampshire Curiosities by Eric Jones
(Insiders’ Guide: paper, 323 pages, $13.95).

Book Review by Rebecca Rule

I didn’t expect this book to be as entertaining as it is. In a tourist state like ours,
guides are prevalent: what to see, what to do, how to get there, hours of
operation, how much it costs to get in.

For locals, a lot of this scenic New Hampshire stuff is old hat. We know New
Hampshire’s scenic; we seen it. A new book, New Hampshire Curiosities, by
Eric Jones of Strafford, however, contains surprises even for natives -- and will
guide newcomers to “quirky characters, roadside oddities & other offbeat stuff”
worth investigating.

Furthermore, Eric Jones writes funny. I mean he’s a funny writer. He comes
across as a quirky character himself, with a sharp eye for the ludicrous but
interesting, a deep ironic sensibility, and a respect for crisp language that keeps
the humor fresh and quick. In “I’ll Trade You My Rock If You’ll Trade Me
Yours,” about the Gilsum Rock Swap and Mineral Show, he writes: “A Granite
Stater who collects rocks is a bit like a Bedouin who collects sand. With so
many samples underfoot, the collecting is easy -- it’s getting rid of the rocks that’
s the hard part.” In “Did You Happen to Get the Plate Numbers on That
Garage?” he takes readers to Hinsdale:

Sometimes oddity is only a matter of scale. Who among us, for example,
hasn’t displayed for aesthetic and/or nostalgic reasons, at least one old license
plate in a bedroom, shop or garage? Who among us hasn’t chanced upon
some old garage with five, ten, even twenty license plates nailed to the back
wall, each one looking unfamiliar and strange and therefore a little more
interesting than the plates screwed to our bumpers? And who among us hasn’
t driven past at least one garage completely covered on all four sides with
hundreds of old license plates? Oh, you haven’t? Well, then, I think I’ve made
my point.”

The photograph of the garage on Route 63 (with three white plastic lawn chairs
artistically arranged by the door) proves his point.

Last summer, some visitors asked me about Hannah Dustin. Having grown up
in Boscawen, I knew a little something about the lady commemorated with a
big statue on the Contoocook. I have a vague memory of a fourth-grade field
trip to the site. But Eric Jones’ take on Hannah, “a seventeenth-century woman
with an axe to grind,” taught me a thing or two.

There’s nothing like attacking a woman’s family, burning her house to the
ground, and forcing her to march through dismal weather for over 100 miles
to make her really, really mad. On March 15, 1697, a group of Abenaki Indians
captured Hannah Dustin, along with her midwife, Mary Neff, and her brand-
new baby, at her homestead in the town of Haverhill, Massachusetts. Her
husband and six other children managed to escape, but Hannah must have
presumed that they had either been captured, too, or killed. According to the
account written by Cotton Mather, . . . , the Dustin baby was killed not long
after the group was taken captive, its head dashed against the trunk of a tree.
Taking all that into consideration -- especially the last part -- you may not be
surprised to learn that when Hannah Dustin managed to escape, she carried
away with her not one, not three, not seven, but ten human scalps.

A dark moment in history, gruesome even, for Hannah Dustin and the
Abenakis, treated with appropriately dark humor.

The scope of this book is wide. Jones organizes by region -- Seacoast,
Merrimack Valley, Monadnock, Lakes, Dartmouth/Sunapee, White Mountains,
Great North Woods. His choices of oddities are often guided by a respect for
folks with passion: Patricia Aveni of Dover, “doctor, nurse, diagnostic expert,
therapist, receptionist, and um, finger replacer at her clinic for over thirty
years.” She fixes dolls. Dan Dustin of Contoocook who “liberates” (i.e. carves)
cutlery from wood: “If someone buys one of my spoons and it cracks, they can
send it back and I’ll turn it into a fork.” Larry Davis of Jaffrey who climbed
Monadnock 2,850 times, without missing a day.

Big rocks, big trees, quaking bogs, giant mud turtles, the Old Man of the
Mountain reincarnated on the hide of a cow, New Hampshire claims more than
its share of natural wonders. Zucchinis in party dresses, the Ticklin' Tithing
Man of South Sutton (I’ve met him; he’s a hoot); ghosts, UFOs, vampires, the
annual Road Kill Auction, “Frances Glessner Lee’s gory little crime scene
dollhouses” in Bethlehem, our state it seems, boasts more than its share of the
unusual, bizarre. And even frightening: “20,000 Bikers Looking to Party in Your
Town.” Yikes.

Asked about his favorites, Jones writes:

I’ve enjoyed learning that Captain Samuel Jones buried his amputated leg in
Washington . . . , that the real-life progenitor of our national icon Uncle Sam
was born in Mason, that there’s a horse named Old Tom buried in the middle
of Alton’s cemetery, and that there’s a 3,200-square-foot mural in the basement
of Dartmouth’s Baker Library that features some of the scariest academics you’
ve ever seen, even if you happen to work in academia. These curiosities and
the peculiar stories behind them have connected me to New Hampshire -- its
history, its places, and its people --in new and surprising ways.

Eric Jones’ delightful accounts of his discoveries will do the same for readers.

About the author
Rebecca Rule is a humorist, author and storyteller, who is the author of  short
fiction, including
The Best Revenge, winner of the NH Writers Project award for
fiction, and her most recent book,
Could Have Been Worse: True Stories,
Embellishments and Outright Lies.
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...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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