Monday, March 26, 2012

Murder on Main Street

By Martha Moravec, excerpted from her blog Mad Genius Bohemians

Brattleboro, Vermont has been my home for thirty-eight years.  When I first arrived, I was told by a number of people that I would have to be a resident for sixty years in order to be considered a Vermonter.  Fair enough.  I was there to get through college.  I had no intention of staying on, as I had no desire to strike root in a place where I didn’t feel especially welcome.

I did stay, however – in fact, I never left – because I happened to have landed in Brattleboro and Brattleboro was the kind of big small town that just took you in.  Whether you were a low-residency psychiatric patient from the Brattleboro Retreat, a Colombian or Japanese student from the Experiment in International Living, a Cambodian refugee, an aging hippie or a transplanted artist, writer or musician, you were tolerated, you were absorbed.

While at college, I began writing the books and lyrics for five musicals that were being produced as fast as my collaborator and I could turn them out.  One of my lyrics shaded my nostalgia for Beaver PA, the hometown of my parents, into my new sentiment for Brattleboro, which was beginning to feel like home.

If it were mud or made of stone,

If it were cobble or clay,

I still would never walk alone

Down Main Street USA.

I could tell you more about Brattleboro (and I probably will eventually) but if you live in a small town or a big town, a reasonably sized city, a city with distinct neighborhoods or a village in Surrey, Guangxi or Mpumalanga, you probably know what I mean.

There would be no one to disturb

But an old friend on the way;

There’s always someone on the curb

Of Main Street USA.

This summer, the town of Brattleboro, which proudly hosts annual events like the Harris Hill ski-jumping competition, the Women’s Film Festival, the Vermont Theatre Company’s Shakespeare-in-the-Park, the Brattleboro Literary Festival, the Marlboro Music Festival (in nearby Marlboro) and the Strolling of the Heifers (a jubilant celebration of sustainable local agriculture), also unexpectedly played host to a series of misfortunes whose psychological effects were very likely magnified by their proximity in time.

The season began with a disastrous fire at Brooks House, one of the town’s historical and architectural prizes on the corner of Main and High Streets.  The gutting of the top two floors of this landmark building left seventy people without homes, while smoke and water damage closed ten street-level businesses.  Some of the businesses relocated and re-opened within two weeks, some we might see again in a year and others we will never see again.  We lost the Book Cellar, one of the smartest independent bookstores I have ever been in, and for a time we feared losing the Brooks House tower, which gives that part of Main Street its distinctive profile and provided Archer Mayor with a suspenseful site for a chase in one of his Joe Gunther novels.

If we were feeling complacent after the fire because Brattleboro expects a disaster of that magnitude only once a year, we were startled and dismayed when a few months later another prized historical and architectural feature on Main Street was wiped out by an impatient truck driver.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, the Latchis Memorial Building (which houses a hotel, a brewery, several theatres and businesses) is one of only two authentic Art Deco structures in the state of Vermont.  Built in 1938, the Greek Revival-themed interior of its movie palace and old vaudeville house is near and dear to our hearts. The impatient truck driver drove up on the sidewalk in an effort to get around some cars that were – I don’t know – stopped for a red light?  It’s difficult to imagine what he was thinking, but let us be glad he didn’t take out any pedestrians and merely completely mangled the Latchis Theatre’s classic marquee.

People started asking, what the hell is going on?

On July 29 the body of a woman in her early thirties was discovered in the woods off the East-West Road in nearby Dummerston.  She had been shot in the head by, it was quickly discovered, her boyfriend and a buddy.  All three of them were involved in “drug-related activity,” specifically the sale of crack cocaine.  This event, although unfortunate, did not have a notable impact on the local mood and media.

Maybe drug dealers are expected to shoot each other in the head but old hippie types who subscribe to wellness, social change and sustainable living are not.  The death of the woman on the East-West Road acquired a new significance and air of menace when it was followed two weeks later by a shooting at the Brattleboro Food Co-op.  The Co-op had just opened for the day when an employee who had recently received a poor job evaluation walked quietly into the store and shot and killed the general manager.

READ THE REST of Murder of Main Street at Mad Genius Bohemians. 

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