October 11, 2020: Amped, Sir, for New Hampshire

Halloween Die-ary #16

“Feels like if we don’t hit northern New Hampshire this weekend, it’ll be past peak. We can save western Massachusetts for next week. It’ll still be on fire, then.” That was me squinting at a foliage map online that I had no reason to trust and probably wasn’t correct.

“Either way, let’s lose the older kids again.” That was Lindsey.

It was our second autumn jaunt of the season. The first was up into the guts of Vermont. This one was to the top hat of New Hampshire. Our route wended due north and then wrapped around the White Mountains like a lasso. A lot of people “wished us luck” on this trek. It was the White Mountains on Columbus Day weekend. COVID or not, that meant bumper-to-bumper leaf-peepers.

Fortunately, we rarely have to worry about traffic on our routes, even during the busiest weekends, because even though we were generally aiming for dying leaves, the shape of our routes are always defined by oddities. And that means less-abused paths.

So, just like the weekend before, Lindsey and I and our youngest, Olive Autumn, took off to take advantage of living in one of the most autumn spots on the planet.

Our first stop was in Meredith, New Hampshire, to see the statue of a fictional character. I love statues of fictional characters. Here’s some proof. Here’s some more. And more. There’s something both wrong and right about them. In this case, that fictional character was the famous comic-strip-character-turned-brand Archie. He, along with most of the characters of Riverdale, were originally designed by Bob Montana, who spent most of his life in Meredith. And Meredith wants you to know that.

I have no affinity for Archie. He was before my time, and now that the CW’s Riverdale is a hit, after my time. My only real connection to him was Archie’s Weird Mysteries, where they went all Scooby Doo with an animated show in 1999. It lasted a year (but 40 episodes). Still, a cartoon character in bronze will make me slam my brakes every time.

Next on our list, was Ordination Rock in Tamworth. It’s a twenty-foot-tall glacial erratic that you can ascend via crumbling stone steps to see an obelisk dedicated to Samuel Hidden, the town’s minister who was ordained atop this boulder in 1792. It was an amazing spot, right beside a 19th century pound where stray livestock were kept and across the road from a cemetery. After clambering up the boulder to get closer to the foliage and terrifying ourselves with both vertigo and the realization that some of this rock was held together by giant staples, we descended and checked out Hidden’s table tomb across the way.  

From there it was on to the real reason for the trip: The tiny village of Stark, New Hampshire. Stark is forty-five miles from the Canadian border in the “how do people make a living here?” part of the state. Maybe 500 people live in that town. But I’ve been trying to get to Stark for a long time. Because it has the ruins of a WW2 POW camp in its forests.

First we stopped in its historic district, which featured a picturesque covered bridge and a few historic buildings from the eighteenth century furred in that white clapboard New England is famous for and which looks so good against red, gold, and orange trees, as well a hillside graveyard with a great view of it all. Then we drove a mile and a half away on Stark Highway, pulling off the road at a New Hampshire historic sign that marked the site and told the story of the Stark POW Camp.

In 1944, 250 Germans captured in North Africa and Normandy needed a place to wait out the war. “What about New Hampshire?” said a general. “They’ll never escape from New Hampshire.” So they transformed a Civilian Conservation Corps camp into a prison camp by erecting four guard towers and a fence and put those POWs to work chopping timber. All of New Hampshire’s history is chopping timber.

Today, some of the ruins of that 75-year-old POW camp survive, although I couldn't find a source online mapping what remained. So we just walked into the forest. The first ruin, a base of stones, was a few steps in. The next, another base of stones, was about twice as far into the brush. I also stumbled upon a cement rectangle in the ground near the second set of ruins. There was probably a fourth and a fifth and who knew how many more ruins. No one has completely explored the area, which is overgrown and wild. There are definitely discoveries to be made there by non-leaf-peepers.

Once we were done trampling traces of Nazis, we headed south to home. I had another stop on my itinerary, but we decided to postpone it for some other trip. Our eyeballs were full. But they won't stay that way. They'll be ready again soon for our next autumn jaunt for strange sites across glowing landscapes.