September 14: Rainstorms, a Nun Cemetery, and a Giant Face

Saturday was [Gomez Addams voice] gloriously overcast and cool and full of the blissful threat of rain. Miserable, some would call it. Life-affirming, is closer to our take. Still, any other time of year, that means staying cozy indoors and watching movies. And, we did that—with a Fall candle, Halloween cookies, and a horror movie, no less—but, because of the season, first we went right out into that impending storm.

We didn’t stray far. Only about half an hour from the house. But that underscores one of my core beliefs about oddity hunting, that within a tank or two of gas of any spot in the country you can find oddity. Even more so, the things I saw and tried to see today were things I’ve only heard about in the past few months and, in one case, learned about just today. Again, half an hour from my house and after a decade of hunting New England oddity. The weird stuff is out there.

First we went to Chester Village Cemetery in Chester, New Hampshire. It’s a Revolutionary-era rotyard, and it’s not too surprising that I didn’t know about it. New England is bumpy with old graveyards. It jumped into my eyes of late because of a strange tale that most of the 18th century markers were carved by a pair of brothers who seemed to put smiling faces or frowning faces on the tombstones in a way that some think were commentaries on the interred.

En route, the rain curtained around us, but by the time we got there, it had abated. We had one umbrella among the five of us, a baby that shouldn’t get wet, and a camera that couldn’t, but we chanced it.

Seconds into the graveyard, though, it poured bathtubs. Fortunately, there were giant oak trees for shelter, but it meant we couldn’t ramble without soaking ourselves. But that’s fine. We had already determined to return later in the season. As soon as we saw that cemetery oak trees, in fact, which will transform the cemetery once the trees slip on their Fall sweaters. We took a few gray photos before unsuccessfully dodging raindrops back to the car.

Next we drove west to Goffstown (site of this giant-pumpkin festival). We were headed to another cemetery…a nun cemetery. It was the Villa Augustina Cemetery, and when we pulled up to the address, I immediately realized it was going to be one of those oddities, an oddity that I hadn’t prepared enough for before arriving. Who could blame me, though? “Nun cemetery” are the only two words I need to run after a thing.

Turns out, the cemetery is in a forest behind an abandoned catholic school festooned with “No Trespassing” and “Cameras in Use” signs.

I still drove onto the lot. The best armor against “No Trespassing” signs is being a family of five with little kids, honestly. Nothing is less threatening than us. My kids were having a slightly different reaction, though. Mostly because my wife defined both “No Trespassing” and “abandoned” for them. They started freaking out a little about the police and a lot about nun-faces in the windows of the decrepit building. This latter one was more probable, I think, because there were definitely lights on inside that abandoned school.

I was hoping that the cemetery would be a few feet past the border of the forest out back, so that I could jump out, check it out, and get out of there quickly. But, no. Still, I jumped out and delved probably 50 yards deep, only to find abandoned basketballs courts, stations of the cross, and less identifiable things rotting out there.

I didn’t look for long, though. I didn’t want to leave the family in the car all illegal and such, nor did I want them trekking through wet forest. But I did make sure to run out of the forest like something was chasing me. Oh, Dad.

So kind of a bummer to not see the site, but not much of one. It’s close to me, so I’ll make it back after more research and with less panicky kids in the backseat and maybe in the winter when the trees are denuded.

However, Lindsey salvaged the moment by suddenly bringing up an oddity not five minutes away that I had never heard of—a seven-foot-tall statue of a face.

It was at Saint Anselm College in Manchester and looked like that thing Sean Connery flew around inside in Zardoz. The statue was actually originally up high in the air. Its intended purpose was as the pinnacle of the State Theatre of Manchester, an art deco movie house that had been erected in 1929, and torn down sometime in 1978. The statue represented the Muse of Comedy, and from old photos, was a striking sight high above the state’s largest city.

Then we headed home, my five-year-old sticking the word “abandoned” in every sentence for the entire drive. Once warm and dry and in front of a glowing rectangle on our wall, we ate Halloween cookies, watched Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and listened to the rainstorm outside.

This is the only good time to be alive.