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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

September 22, 1996|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

ODDITY ODYSSEY: A Journey Through New England's Colorful Past by James Chenoweth (Holt: $9.95, 164 pp.). Leaf season is upon us, not that this exerts the gravitational pull in Southern California that it seems to on city dwellers on the Eastern seaboard, but here is another strange guidebook, something like "Paris Out of Hand" (above) without the collage.

These bits of history and topographical detail resemble the 2000-pound prairie dog off the freeway in Kansas more than the gargoyles of Notre Dame. For example: Did you know that the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont used to lie in wait for New Yorkers coming over the border? "Intruders were introduced to a 'beech seal' flogging--a hearty 'chastisement with the twigs of the wilderness.' " Or that an Egyptian mummy (a child no less) is buried in West Cemetery in Middlebury, Vt.? I lived there for five years and I didn't even know that.

New Hampshire has its own flavor: Sarah Averill's epitaph in the cemetery at Jaffrey Center reads: "She done all she could." From Lynchville, Maine, the weary traveler is but a stone's throw from the neighboring Maine towns of Norway, Paris, Denmark, Naples, Sweden, Poland, Mexico, Peru and China. In Calais, Maine, one epitaph reads more like an advertisement: "Sacred to the Memory of Mr. Jared Bates who Died Aug. the 6th, 1800. His Widow aged 24 who mourns as one who can be comforted lives at 7 Elm street this village and possesses every qualification for a good Wife."

Massachusetts is a more sober state than Vermont, Maine or New Hampshire, but it does boast America's largest tea kettle, with a capacity exceeding 227 gallons. As for Rhode Island, the Massachusetts General Court, "disdaining the new name as presumptuous, usually spelled it Road Island," revealing the downside: New England's notorious pettiness.

Still, with the ghost parking lot in Hamden, Conn., who needs Paris?

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