Exploring a Few New England Oddities
I couldn’t begin to list all the physical manifestations of famous legends that can be viewed in New England today. They’re everywhere. My favorites, however, are those with which I’ve had some personal connection. For instance, I’ve snooped around a certain little house nestled in some pines on the shores of a river in Hopkinton, New Hampshire — a little house made from the crate used to ship Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis back to America on board the USS Memphis after his historic flight to Paris. Legend has it that an officer aboard the Memphis, who happened to be a native of Hopkinton, made a deal with Lindbergh en route to acquire the crate, which he eventually turned into a small house. The quiet, secluded setting of this now forlorn structure juxtaposed in my mind with the worldwide Lindbergh hoopla of years ago created for me one of those fleetingly special moments during which everything seems pleasantly sad.
And I didn’t need my binoculars to see plainly the large pointing hand on top of the steeple of the Methodist church in Milton Mills, New Hampshire, when I was investigating the “Church with the Hand on Top” one beautiful September day. It was made of a solid block of wood and had been carried to that dizzy height in a half-bushel wicker basket by one Aratus Shaw, who, with others, built the church as a labor of love in 1871, using only donated materials.
It makes history real for me to see and touch and ponder the perfectly preserved bullet hole in the shed wall of the Elisha Jones House (not open to the public) in Concord, Massachusetts, a British soldier’s parting shot as his regiment was retreating following the Concord fight on April 19, 1775. It’s almost as if it happened last week. Same with the plainly visible tomahawk marks on a door at Old Deerfield.
Speaking of my binoculars, I did use them one day to study the top of the steeple on the First Baptist Church in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. I was trying to determine whether or not there’s really a 5-1/2-foot-high beer bottle up there. Well, it’s up there, all right. The most popular explanation is that during the 1850s, a brewery in Portsmouth offered to donate the money necessary for a brand-new steeple if the symbol of their product was placed at the top for all the world to see.
“Smacks a little of soul selling,” the then-pastor, Reverend R. Scruton, told me, “but that was the only offer they had.” Since then, generations of Hampton Falls residents can be thankful that the Truform Brassiere and Corset Company, then a major employer in town, hadn’t decided to make a better offer.