North Adams, Massachusetts | The Stupidest Thing We Ever Said
Photo/Art by John P. SchmelzerHow much rope do you need to hang yourself? About nine words’ worth, apparently. “North Adams is still a sorry gateway to anywhere …” I’ve had those words thrown in my face more times than I care to count, and I didn’t even write them. In fact, I was 13 when they were printed. But in North Adams, Massachusetts, one Yankee writer is as guilty as the next.
The offending phrase appeared in a driving tour of the Berkshires in our 1996 Travel Guide. No sooner did the issue hit the newsstands than our phones started ringing. We got letters. We lost subscribers. It was kind of like when we changed the size of the magazine a few years back.
John Barrett, who was at that point halfway through his 26-year marathon run as North Adams’ mayor, had never seen anything rile his city up that badly. He remembers thinking, “My God! Yankee is like motherhood and apple pie. They wouldn’t say anything bad about anybody.” Only we did, and at a really unfortunate time, too.
In 1996 North Adams was a flower about to bloom. The long-awaited Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art was finally on the horizon and the downtown was showing signs of life. People were feeling new pride in the city. “Then whammo!” Barrett recalls. “When Yankee came out with that, boy, people came out of the woodwork.”
Naturally, we apologized. We even sent our company president on a mea culpa tour. It should have blown over, but it was too good a rallying cry for Barrett to let die. The phrase became a fixture in his speeches, and to this day he still brings it up to show how far the city has come. At this point it has so permeated the local dialect that any sentence about positive change in North Adams ends with the obligatory “Not bad for a city that Yankee called ‘a sorry gateway to anywhere.’”
We realize we’re to blame for this, but isn’t it time for a new phrase to define our relationship? How about: “North Adams: a we’re sorry gateway to can’t we please be friends again?” Please?