Category Archives: Experiences

Hunting Vampires in Vermont

picture of the Woodstock VT green where a vampire may or may not be burriedLast month I went home for the first time in a long while. It was the first time I’d been there since I started playing super tourist, pretty much the first time I’d ever played tourist there.

One of the things that I did was play “find the vampire grave” in Woodstock VT, a quaint town of quaintness about 45 minutes away from my sister’s house.


I grew up knowing, vaguely, that there was some sort of story about a vampire buried in their green. A New England note, all towns are centered around a green of some sort. The story I knew or thought I knew involved the “vampire” being dug up and buried in the crossroads with a stake in its heart and garlic in its mouth.

A couple years ago I was reminded about the vampire by this fantastic article in Smithsonian magazine about New England vampires. Seemingly vampires were a New England “thing” just like pineapple décor and apple-based products. It was a combination of the ravages of consumption, which was killing of a significant slice of the population, and economic problems as poor towns lost population to the easier-to-farm Midwest, cities and mill towns, and well, to consumption. Additionally, there was actually a time when New England was considered the superstitious and behind-the-times area of the country. Backstory recently re-ran their podcast on it for this Halloween; it’s definitely worth the listen if you have the hour for it. It’s worth noting that much of the proof of vampirism – such as an unexpectedly well-preserved corpse can be blamed on the cold climate and rocky soil of the area.

It turned out that Woodstock was the site of not one but two vampire incidents – although neither followed the story as I knew it.

The first was that of Frederick Ransom who died on Feb. 14, 1817. He wasn’t the only sick one in his family, and fearing particularly for the health of his younger brother, his father had Frederick’s body dug up, his heart burned on the anvil of the local blacksmith, and then fed to said brother. The Ransom case is particularly interesting as far as vampire stories go because unlike other incidents, the Ransoms were upper class and fiscally sound.   Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, this didn’t save the Ransoms – Frederick was followed by his mother, sister, and two other brothers over the next 15 years, although his last brother lived into his 80s.

The second story is a bit less well documented. While we have Frederick Ransom’s younger brother’s recollections, the data on the second vampire comes from a newspaper story written 60 years after the fact.   While various organizations including the Woodstock Historical society have verified certain facts, the simple fact remains that no one can place the family or the death. However, Sledzik and Bellantoni cite three additional sources for the story in their paper “Brief Communication: Bioarcheological and Biocultural Evidence for the New England Vampire Folk Belief” so perhaps there’s more to be found  that isn’t available online.

potential location for Woodstock Vermont vampire burialThe story is such: in June 1830 (or maybe 1829 or 1834) the Corwin family, also suffering from consumption, dug up a son who had died six months earlier to determine vampirism. After they and other local townspeople determined that there was “fresh blood” in his heart his body was also taken to the green and burned. In some versions his ashes were fed to his brother, in others they were buried in the crossroads of the green in an iron cask or caldron and potentially under a granite slab.

This is particularly interesting since the green was redesigned to look as it does now around the same time.

One factor that brings this story into question is that he was supposedly buried in Cushing cemetery but there are not any Corwin graves in Cushing. However, if you had just dug up your vampiric family member perhaps you would avoid using the same cemetery.

Sadly Woodstock, perhaps because the focus on high end fancy tourism, doesn’t have any marker or information about the vampires in the green. There’s nothing to see but scruffy grass, a closed info booth, and dirt paths.

Roadtripping Route 66 (ish): Part 1 of ??

Ambler's Texaco Dwight IL picture of historical gas pump and electric car plugI went on my trip over a month ago and haven’t written about it, i.e. the opposite of my goal. I didn’t really think of how little I would want to write after tumbling into a motel at 9, 10, 11 pm, that I would be too busy directing and experiencing to write in the car, that I’d be trying to make coffee in a travel mug sans brewer instead of a few quiet hours in a coffee shop to think and reflect.

I did have three hours to myself once. I wrote part of a blog post but then gave up and looked at the internet instead.  Giant blue whale sculpture in Catoosa Oklahoma on Route 66The other thing that I didn’t think of is how difficult it would be to put so much experience into words. I could write every day for months and still not be able to get it all down. And where even to start? I came home with thousands of pictures, six states under my belt, two different giant whales as different as they are alike.

picture of Route 66 midpoint in Adrian Texas paint in the middle of the roadBut you have to start somewhere, and I’m choosing Route 66. While we didn’t generally drive Route 66 we stayed close to it, on the major highways that superceeded it, veering back to see giant things, tiny museums, and the constant search for a good ghost town.

One thing I learned preparing for this trip is that Europeans love traveling Route 66 and, for some reason, many Americans hate this fact.

I get it, though – the European perspective that is. There is something so American about Route 66, that we built a giant road so you could drive halfway across a continent because why not. It’s a way to see the US that isn’t just New York and Hollywood.

Route 66 is the prosperous 1950s but also the dust bowl. It’s some of the country’s richest cities but also so many small towns left to rot and age. It’s friendly people who love their homes and want to share and save them, who were delighted that our party consisted of someone from (kind of) each of the endpoints. It’s a road full of retro-restored gas stations, all with their own electric car plugs.

It is fantastic and so worth the trip even to drive a little bit of it.


picture of guidebooks for epic road tripEpic Road Trip.

8 Days.

Chicago to Tucson

via St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Santa Fe, and the Petrified Forest.

With my high school best friend, Tory, who specializes in driving across the country for practical purposes. Her job? To drive and make sure we don’t get lost or die of dysentery. My job? To make sure we don’t miss a bit of Route 66 or other wackiness along the way.

To say that I am ridiculously excited is an understatement.

I’ve never been on a road trip longer then two days; never been on a trip where the drive was more important then the destination.

It’s almost my dissertation and defense in finding unusual things to do.

I had quite a bit of practice last week. My in-laws were in town so I made a Pilsen mural walking tour for them, then we all drove up to Detroit, and I could cross a few lingering things off my to-see list: Hamatrack Disneyland, the mold-a-ramas at the Henry Ford Museum and in Ann Arbor, a few of the fairy doors and the Liberty Street Robot Store

Photos from Michigan Road Trip April 2015

(incidentally, all of them are worth it!)

I’m still firming up our trip list, but once I’ve got it down and binderized (yes, I’m making a binder because, well, dork), I’ll update again. I’m hoping to blog about each day as we go along – if we have wifi – to challenge my boundaries, but we’ll see how well that goes.

A Busy April Weekend

A few pics from my weekend adventures around the city

First, there was this weird theme to my Saturday afternoon:graffiti and sign about masturbation

Then I had the exciting realization that I would finally, finally be walking past Sprinkle’s Cupcake ATM.  I’ve wanted to go for years, but I’m never in the neighborhood

Cupcake ATM in ChicagoIt was fantastic!  How was your weekend?

New Orleans Graffiti

New Orelans was amazing…. and also a little hellish, but that’s what I get for going someplace in a high-tourist season.

My favorite thing was to just wander around and look at the architecture….and the grafitti. I love grafitti, not the kind that’s this is my gang area or Leroy was here, but the unexpected bit of art kind.

Warehouse covered in graffiti in New Orleans at Elysian  Fields and Charrtres

There was a ton of fantastic graffiti in New Orleans. Notably, the historic houses were mainly clear, artists, even taggers, saved their efforts for sidewalks, signs, and abandoned buildings, which I really appreciate. I think it showed a lot of respect for the area. Another sign of respect? People didn’t grafiti over each other’s art.

I fell in love with these koi on the ground by Jeremy Nova – particularly with editorial comments.Grafitti koi by Jeremy Nova with children's editorial comments.  New Orleans.

I also loved these footprints also by Nova.

Bootprint sidewalk grafitti by Jermy Nova, New Orleans.

Being in New Orleans made me realize how much I love art on the sidewalk. Sidewalks are so boring. Speaking of unexpected sidewalk art.

Spray-style sidewalk grafitti on Chartres between Montegut and Clouet.

Being in New Orleans made me realize how much I love art on the sidewalk. Sidewalks are so boring. Speaking of unexpected sidewalk art.

Making a Vacation To-Do List.

As you read this, I have probably started my world-wind 72-hour trip to New Orleans, stock full of things that I am super super excited about. I get a lot of comments on my travel-fu, so I thought it was only time to share my process.

First, if you know nothing about your location, look it up on Wikipedia or other basic knowledge-providers. It’s weirdly helpful to know the basics of what you should be excited for. It’s even helpful if you think you’re in the know; anyone trying to plan a trip to Chicago based on reading The Jungle will be severely disappointed.

After that, there’s a few websites I like to hit: Atlas Obscura, Roadside America, the Lonely Planet, weirdly Yelp, and even Pinterest. At that point I’m just brainstorming ideas and places to explore more thoroughly.   This is a great time to also Google for things you’re generally obsessed with; for me that’s vending machines, which lead me to the Musée Mécanique in San Francisco.

There’s also knowing what you like. I, for example, am not a huge fan of tours, but some people really love them. Meanwhile, I love window-shopping weird stores – it feels almost like a free art gallery – but a lot of my friends do not (until they end up in the store full of fossils or a candy store demonstration using 100 year old molds).

There’s also asking people you know or even asking people you don’t know. One of my best travel suggestions was given by the owners of an Irish knitwear booth at the Kriskrindlemart (a German Christmas market in Chicago). You may get a lot of suggestions that are eye-roll-worthy, but it’s a good way to find new things to do. I also like taking out travel guides out of the library for the same reason.

Urban Bourbon Trail Passport from Louisville, KY Tourist BoardDon’t automatically rule out the super touristy. Sometimes things are popular for a reason – the Art Institute in Chicago – other times they can be fun in a kitschy way. When we went to Louisville last summer we did the tourism board’s Urban Bourbon Trail. Go to five bourbon heavy bars, get the world’s most elaborate “passport” stamped at each, get a free t-shirt and certificate, and get to keep the overly fancy passport. On the other hand, do not just do the tourist. No one will be impressed with your trip, it will be overpriced, crowded no-matter the time of year, and it’ll weirdly feel just like being a tourist anywhere else.

Now that you have your list, it’s time to prioritize. It can be as simple as jotting a few things on a post-it or as complicated as… well… this:

spreadsheet(in my defense, my travel buddy did the color coding).

It helps to know what’s near what else and to make sure you don’t forget that one thing or two that you really really want to do. However, don’t over plan either. I’ve gone that route and it almost never works out. There’s always a random street that needs walking down, an emergency coffee or beer stop to make, or, sadly, transit problems.

My goals for New Orleans? Bars like the Carousel and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop; beignets, proto-tiki (?) and Cajun food; the ‘tit Rex and Chewbaccus parades; the Pharmacy museum, architecture, and cemeteries; and plenty of wandering around enjoying the 40+ temperature bounce I’m about to enjoy.

Veterans Day at Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery

Civil War Union Soldiers graves at Rosehill Cemetery ChicagoAfter visiting Graceland Cemetary, I realized that a visit to Rosehill was also in order.  Rosehill is way larger than Graceland and, without a plan going in, I got overwhelmed and couldn’t see half of what I wanted to.  Unfortunately – and unlike Graceland – Rosehill doesn’t have a map and allegedly doesn’t give out  grave locations.  So next visit I’ll have to be more prepared!

Luckily, I accidentally went on the Sunday before Veterans Day to a graveyard that has extensive civil war graves.  And of course, soldiers’ graves combined with Veterans Day requires gun shots and also… cannons?

Cannon for Vetrans Day at Rosehill Cemetery ChicagoFor real, cannons, or a cannon anyhow.  I’m pretty sure everything I heard was gun shots but at least I got to see the cannon.  (side note:  I have no idea what I did to this picture to make it look like a drawing, which is sad because it’s awesome, if confusing)

Walking soldier Vetrans Day at Rosehill Cemetery ChicagoWe also saw a few people in more conventional military garb, but this guy caught my fancy.  I was too chicken – or well-mannered – to run after him and ask how one ends up in historical garb in a cemetery on Veterans Day, but I would love to know how that happens.

I have some, scratch that a lot of mausoleum photos from my visit that I can’t wait to share soon.


Vote Hardcore and All-Awesome-Like

When people think about voting in Chicago, they think corruption. Even the local newspaper’s voting column is called “Early and Often,” referencing the infamous vote early and often statement.

Chicago Voting Ballot 2014What they don’t know is that voting in Chicago is hardcore. Ballots are a foot-long and double sided; there were two this year, e.g. four pages of voting. It starts easy enough, governor, senator, but then it just becomes a muddle. Who did you want for state treasurer? What about county treasurer? (and that doesn’t even touch city treasurer; city elections are in January). How about water reclamation board? (which is a city position) Vote for no more than three choices out of nine for a six year term and a quick google won’t tell you anything about this year’s candidates. This year’s – you vote for water reclamation board every year.

After this warm up, you get the judge page. For some reason, we get to vote on judges, which is cool but also ends up just being overwhelming. An entire foot of “should we retain this judge? What about this one.” Yes/Si vs No/No for a page at least 30 choices.

I don’t have a good understanding of exactly how the judge voting works and I have a friend whose aunt is a judge.

Then there are polling places. There is a polling place in the school across the street from my house, but it’s not my polling place. Mine is, in fact, in a nursing home on the other side of the school.   They send a ton of mail telling you where to vote but it’s still confusing enough that the Democratic party put signs up on everyone’s door letting them know where to vote this year.

where to voteI passed by an apartment building between the school and the nursing home; their sign said they vote at a church three blocks away. The polling place thing, although confusing as all get out, is one of the most awesome factors about Chicago voting. Most places I’ve been, voting happens in a school gymnasium or maybe a public library. Chicago? Not so much

While the locations in my neighborhood are fairly prosaic – as I said my location is a nursing home – some people in Chicago get to vote in bars, bowling alleys, funeral homes, beauty salons, and auto dealerships.

I love voting in Chicago. It feels like a real accomplishment to vote. Even though the judge voting is overwhelming and nigh impossible to keep track of, I have gotten to vote “no” on a few really corrupt people, which always feels good.

I also love that every effort is made to make sure that people can vote. You never have to show a photo ID and a utility bill (or voter card) can be used for proof of residency if you’re not on the rolls. This year we got to vote on amending the constitution to make voter ID rules illegal.   While it’s a little political-machine, it’s great that the Democrats put up signs giving voting information. I love that so many people are willing to work a 14-hour shift for $75 so that we can all vote.

So while I appreciate the fun of talking about Chicago voting as all corruption, there is so much more going on that is bizarre and awesome and is so much more Chicago-y.

I don’t need to tell you to vote, right?

Working On a Story on the Chicago Open House

and looking at a few of my photos from this year! (can you tell I love 1920s’ era pools?)Park Castle Apartments, Chicago Architectural Foundation Open House 2014, featuring the pool Edgewater Beach Hotel OHC 2014

Scottish Elections – No Thanks

I was super lucky to have been in Scotland during their recent independence elections.  While many people commented that it had become quite a vicious argument, I (as an American) was surprised at how pleasant everyone was.  You would never see a display of posters arguing both perspectives hanging out together as I did in Kirkudbright.

A display of Yes and No independence signs in Kirkudbright Scotland

The iconography was also fascinating.  We were mainly in the north so most of the signs and stickers we saw were for Yes, but there was a fair amount of No in Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Since I’m still sorting through my 100+ Yes pictures, here are some of my favorite No options.  (There were several versions of the UK flag/Uncle Sam/Queen sticker below including a Harry Potter one).

Scotland Independence no signs