The First Road Trip of the Season, Part 1

September 17, 2021 — It’s hard to call this jaunt our first Fall road trip. Maybe because it was only five days into September when we took it. Maybe because we stuck to urban stops. Maybe because we drove south. I don’t know. There’s definitely a specific feeling to Fall road trips, though. I’ve even felt it during certain Summer road trips. Like this one. And this one. But despite the feeling not being quite there, it was still our first road trip of the season, and we still saw some spooky sites—a Devil’s footprint, an Edgar Allan Poe sign, a dragon, a skeleton marker, a murder marker, Mr. Potato Head.

Devil’s Footprint (Norton, Massachusetts)

I’ve been tracking the Devil throughout New England since 2009. I first caught his trail on the stone fence of a cemetery in Manchester, Maine. Then I found his trace on a rocky hill outside a church in Ipswich, Massachusetts. This time, it was on a boulder in Norton, Massachusetts.

Every Devil’s footprint has a different story attached to it. In this one, a man named George Leonard makes a deal for riches and power with a tall, black-clad stranger he meets in the forest in the late 1600s. He got the riches and power, but the bill came due early when he died in 1716 at age 45.

His body was placed in his house prior to burial, and when his widow went to check on it, she found Johnny Cash standing over George’s remains. The man in black picked up the corpse in one arm and jumped out the window so hard he left a footprint in the stone that he landed on. The family was forced to bury an oak log in George’s place.

George Leonard was a real man who was wealthy and did die at 45, although his family was already rich enough that the Devil could've sold his soul to them. Today, George’s house is no more, but the rock is preserved in a copse of trees in the parking lot of J.C. Solmonese Elementary School. That’s right. These photos looked like we trekked deep into the forest examining every boulder as we went to find this oddity, but in reality our car is parked a few steps away between neatly painted lines.

And I’m one step closer to finding the Devil.

Mr. Potato Head Statue (Pawtucket, Rhode Island)

Battle Beasts, G.I. Joe, Glo Worms, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Koosh, Lincoln Logs, Lite-Brite, M.A.S.K., Nerf, Operation, Play-Doh, Pound Puppies, Rubik’s Cube, Super Soakers, Tinkertoys, Transformers, Battleship, Clue—it’s borderline child abuse how much Hasbro influenced and occupied my childhood, to the point that most of my memories are dim mashups of those products instead of warm family experiences.

Little did I know back when I was making my G.I. Joes and Transformers enact elaborate adventures on the landscape of crumpled blankets on my bed that one day I’d be standing in front of their maker’s headquarters. And that it would look like a boring office park...except for the giant Mr. Potato Head statue out front.

We parked in a spot reserved for employees with signs printed with Monopoly pieces (it was Sunday) and spent a lot of time with the smooth spud, although that was mostly because I wanted a picture of my toddler with it, and she was too scared of it to cooperate.

And I get that. I do. And I can’t help but wonder what corporation is crowding out her memories of warm family experience with thoughts of plastic licensed things.

Nori the Dragon (Providence, Rhode Island)

I don’t like most children’s museums. And I know I’m an adult, but, you know, I’m the one that brings the children. These types of museums always seem to be subpar, overpriced experiences without anything unique to see or do. Which I’ve never understood. Regular museums have cool stuff for both adults and kids. Why can’t children’s museums?

All that said, I have no idea what the level of quality of the Providence Children’s Museum is because I didn’t go inside. I was there for what was perched on its roof: Nori the Dragon. An extremely cool thing with a boring backstory. The dragon was made for a Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibit on Chinese paintings, and when that was over didn’t have a use for it.

But the Providence Children’s Museum did. They snatched it up, stuck it on the roof near the entrance, and created a tail to drape over the back of the building to make it look like the dragon extended across the entire top. And with that one act, they put way more effort into the whimsy and magic of their exterior than the entire Hasbro HQ. Although Mr. Potato Head was cool, despite what my kid thought.

Come back tomorrow for Part II, where we continue the road trip to sites related to Edgar Allan Poe, a skeleton in armor, and a double-murder at a shoe factory.