Saturday, May 30, 2009

Danny Croteau

A Flashback

Joanne Wade is a true-crime writer who has made a career out of writing about notorious Western Mass murders. Her first book A Thread of Evidence was a thinly fictionalized account of the notorious Chapin murder case, which shocked the city in the 1950's, back when Springfield was still innocent enough to be shocked by crime.

Now Wade has another book No Tomorrows, featuring true life essays on murdered children, which includes a section on Springfield's most infamous unsolved murder, the slaying of Danny Croteau.

It also includes other unsolved child murder mysteries, such as Agawam's Lisa Ziegert. The book doesn't have much in the way of new material regarding these cases, but it is still fascinating to have all the information on these crimes, dribbled out by the media over the years, all collected in one place. Nothing would be better than to have this book jog someone's memory in a way helpful to solving these mysteries.

Many times when I tell people that I knew Danny Croteau there is a pregnant pause, as if they expect me to follow that revelation with some pearl of insight into his murder. If so, then they are always disappointed because I have no insights to offer. For one thing I didn't know Danny that well. He lived in 16 Acres and I in ol' Pine Point, so our paths may not even have crossed at all except that the Boy Scout troop I belonged to was a joint troop of boys from both my church, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, and Danny's which was called Saint Catherine. Danny also attended Our Lady of the Sacred Heart school, which was just a half a block from where I grew up. In fact the most famous picture of him, the one they always run with news accounts, is of Danny posing for a portrait in his OLSH uniform, as shown in the background of the picture below of Danny's parents.

The media always likes to refer to Danny as "an altar boy" but I never knew that about him when he was alive. It would have made no impression on me if I did, lots of kids were altar boys, it was the sort of thing your parents would push you to do and had no real significance. I think the media likes to describe him as an altar boy because it makes the crime seem that more heinous - "Altar Boy Brutally Murdered!" is a catchy headline. From what I remember of Danny he was much more of a hellion than an altar boy, smoking cigarettes and experimenting with marijuana and alcohol even at a very young age. I think this picture more accurately captures his impish and mischievous character:

I sometimes wonder whether I would remember Danny at all if he hadn't been murdered. I was older than him, and he and his friends were dismissed by us older scouts as "the little kids." When I try to recall who the other little kids were I can't do so well, which makes me think that it was Danny's death, and it's violent manner, that burned him permanently into my memory. Danny was the first person in my age group to die, and certainly he was the first person I knew who had been murdered. I can't tell you what my emotions were at the time, I try to remember but it's a blank. The code we lived by as boys would not have allowed any outward display of emotion and we were all pretty much encouraged to bury whatever feelings we had.

Danny's was a very inconvenient murder in many ways, which is why I think it was never solved. For one thing, the only suspect was a Catholic priest, Rev. Richard Lavigne, in an era when the moral authority of the church was never questioned. Lavigne was also a political figure, a leftist priest typical of the time who fought for left-wing causes in the name of "social justice." Therefore the local liberals always wanted the Rev. Lavigne front and center at all their political rallies, his priestly collar providing proof of the moral superiority of their cause. Now all those good Democrats, some of whom went on to play prominent roles in Springfield politics, all behave as if they never knew him.

I also knew Father Lavigne, but there was nothing unique about that. To be a Catholic boy in Springfield of a certain age meant that you were certain to meet Father Lavigne. Frankly, I thought nothing bad about him at the time and can offer no insights into whether or not he was Danny's murderer.

However I will repeat what I always vow whenever I think about Danny Croteau, which is that if there is any justice in this world, then somebody, someday is gonna pay for that crime.

On the Street

A well-known crossguard sent me these early morning pics of her post in Springfield.

Happy Day

Today I went to the UMass Renaissance House to groove to the view.

Big billowy clouds passed majestically overhead.

It was beauty that made ya wanna jump!

Today's Video

Last month I ran into J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. on the streets of Northampton.

Here's the grey-haired man as fair haired boy at UMass in 1986.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


A Pine Point Turtle Tale

There is a large dingle near The World Famous Thomas M. Balliet Elementary School in the Pine Point section of Springfield, Massachusetts that we kids used to call "Snake Woods" on account of how you could catch a lot of small snakes there to put in your sister's bed or something. You could sometimes capture other creatures there as well, such as frogs and turtles.

One day when I was about ten years old I saw a black turtle with spots on its back basking in the sun on a rock near the swampy creek that passed through Snake Woods. Ever so quietly I snuck up on the terrapin with that perfect agility we have only as children, and with lightning speed I snatched it up in my hands before it could escape into the water. I thought this spotted turtle was one of the neatest things I ever caught, so I brought it home and decided to make it my pet.

The first problem I faced was where to keep it. I knew it lived in the woods and obviously liked rocks and water since I had captured it near both, but how could I recreate that environment in my cellar near the washing machine, which is where I determined that he should live? Eventually I settled for a very simple decor consisting of a medium sized metal tub in which I placed a sizable rock and some water. That gave my turtle the varied options of either sitting on the rock, swimming in the water, or hovering near the rock half in and half out of the water. Most of the time he seemed to prefer just sitting on the rock.

Next I had to figure out what the turtle ate. I put some lettuce in front of it, and then I tried pieces of fruit, but the turtle was bored by these offerings. Turtles always look bored, but you know what I mean. Finally I was showing one of my cousins the turtle and he said, "That looks just like the kind of turtle I caught fishing one time!" So my cousin and I jumped on our high-handled banana seat bicycles and zoomed off to the nearest worm farm, which was located a few blocks away on Denver Street.

There were quite a few worm farms in Pine Point. A worm farm usually consisted of a large wooden box filled with rich soil and mixed with coffee grounds. Some people claimed that adding little dashes of other ingredients like orange peels or eggshells improved the mix, but it was mostly the dirt and the coffee grounds that mattered since apparently the worms got all agitated and horny off the caffeine and would reproduce like crazy. Then you could sell the worms in a paper cup to folks going fishing at fifty cents a dozen.

It was easier money than running a paper route, as I would surely know, having the largest paper route in all Pine Point! Today you don't see worm farms, since about twenty years ago the government passed ordinances requiring you to have a permit to sell fishing supplies, including bait. That had the effect of ruining the profitability of the homemade worm farm, and thus yet another field of small business was killed by government regulation.

Anyway, when we got back to my house we offered the worm to "Barney" (as I had decided to name him, in honor of my favorite Flintstones character) and he loved it. It was wonderfully gross in a way only ten year olds can appreciate to watch the worm writhing frantically as Barney methodically, in his slow-mo turtle way, sucked the poor earth-borer down his gullet.

I assumed that Barney must be very happy in his new home, swimming, dozing on his rock and enjoying all the fat juicy worms he could eat. But after a week or so of this life of leisure, he started to act out of sorts. He rarely went into the water, and simply sat on his rock with his legs drawn in with just his head sticking out of his shell and his eyes closed. He had even lost interest in the worms, who when fed to him slithered all around the rock untouched until they fell into the water and drowned. I went and told my mother that something seemed to be wrong with Barney.

After examining the turtle, my mother and I had a little talk. She explained to me about how animals that are born wild don't usually take very well to being kept in captivity. She also said that creatures like to be with their own kind, and that Barney probably missed the other turtles he had known in Snake Woods. I knew what she was getting at, so I decided I better do what I had to do.

Placing Barney in a cardboard shoebox, along with a worm in case his appetite was revived by the ride, I got on my bike and rode to Snake Woods. There I returned to the spot where I had first captured Barney and I opened the shoebox. The moment he was exposed to the air and the sunlight and saw where he was, Barney instantly snapped out of his lethargy and began frantically waving his legs. I put him on the ground and he ran towards the water. I'd like to say that he glanced back at me once before diving into the muck, but maybe I just imagine that he did. In any case with a splash he was gone, and of course I never saw him again.

Recently on the front page of the paper there was a picture of a spotted turtle looking very much like Barney. The accompanying article announced that the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board had removed the spotted turtle from its endangered species list. The article went on to say that the habitat of the spotted turtle - marshy wooded areas like Snake Woods - were being destroyed by economic development to the point that the population of spotted turtles had plummeted. Now thanks to conservation efforts the turtle population has revived to the point that it is no longer in danger of extinction.

As for the turtle habitat of Snake Woods, it is still very much there. In fact it is even more wild than it was in my day, since kids don't seem to play in the woods much anymore. The last time I was there the trails had become mostly overgrown. I guess kids these days are too busy with video games and such to fool around in the woods.

When I finished the newspaper article, an odd thought struck me - could Barney still be alive? I know I read somewhere that turtles have some of the longest life expectancies in the animal kingdom, with some turtles being documented as surviving more than a century.

Who knows? But Barney, if you're out there somewhere in the muddy bottom of the wetlands of Snake Woods, I want you to know that I was thinking of you today.

The 2010 Obama

Here's the new model the government is forcing General Motors to build.

This banner in Northampton is actually quite inspiring now that it is no longer being used as a cheap campaign slogan.

Nature's Party House

In Amherst there are two giant pines standing so close together that they appear as one.

They are located behind the Golden Nozzle Car Wash on Route Nine.

This path leads right past the pines.

If you look carefully, you will spot an entranceway to a hidden, natural enclosure created by the trees.

Inside there is this mattress made of a wooden pallet covered with cardboard. It doesn't look very comfortable, but I assume you would put a sleeping bag on top if you had one.

The hideaway was deserted when I stopped in, but the occupant appears to be quite thirsty and very untidy.

Remember to be grateful for what you have, because you don't know how other people have to live.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Young Libertarians

The Future Belongs to Them

Much has been made among commentators about the seeming inability of the Republican Party to successfully reposition themselves for a future comeback. Actually the answer is simple, they should jetison the religious right and recommit themselves to the principles of a free society. Now they have an additional reason to choose the freedom path - it puts them in harmony with the views of today's young people. According to the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel:

America's Generation Y (born between 1980 and 1995) is the first to have grown up with the Internet, which leaves it the most liberty-loving generation since the era of Andrew Jackson.

What does it mean to have been weaned in an environment -- the Internet -- virtually free of government interference? Millions of Gen-Yers have grown accustomed to making purchases online tax-free. They download movies and music (much of it pirated), read their news online for free (to the detriment of print media), find recipes online and network with friends and relatives online.

In short, they love their freedom.

This love of liberty translates into a unique political composite. Gen-Yers are less nationalistic and more likely to see all politicians as corrupt than older voters. They support liberalization of drug laws and would prefer to see marijuana legalized. And they are much less likely to support restrictions on immigration than older voters. ...

But they are also free-traders, much more supportive of globalization than older voters. They're optimistic, overwhelmingly believing that they can change the country for the better. And in the most recent surveys, they support proposals to privatize Social Security, which few believe will be there for them when they retire.

...Weaned on the Internet, they understand what our founders understood and what classical liberals [libertarians] since have preached: that Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service represent big, intrusive government, but so, too, do a massive military, snooping spy agencies and national identification cards. They don't want the government taxing their Internet purchases any more than they want a government agency assigning them a doctor.

It's the classical liberalism of Milton Friedman, who argued that political and economic freedom are deeply interrelated -- that one cannot exist without the other. They've grown up with that kind of freedom, and as voting adults, they have come to expect it.

The first party to understand this and adjust will dominate America's political landscape in the future.

Are you listening, clueless Republicans?

Hamp Scenes

On Memorial Day I took this picture of the parking lot of the Hotel Northampton. Looks like there weren't a lot of people traveling this holiday weekend.

I like this weird mural on a wall in an alley off of Market Street.

It seems to be trying to tell a story, but if so I can't figure it out.

Purple people on a trash can.

A monster on a tree stump.

Today's Videos

Paolo reminded me today of this great video by this talented Holyoke duo calling themselves Paper City's Finest. What happened to them? There was a CD at one point called "Big Dreams" but it doesn't seem to have gone anywhere. When the following video first came out in 2006 we were all amazed and impressed, expecting it to be the beginning of a whole new creative scene involving cool and informative videos coming out of the Valley's inner-city neighborhoods. Yet that really hasn't happened. In fact, three years later this is still the best music video of its type to come out of the Pioneer Valley so far.

Here's something recent by somebody out of Springfield.

The price of a postage stamp went up to 44 cents this week. Isn't that unbelievable? They said they had to raise the price because fewer and fewer people are using the mail these days. That's government thinking, isn't it? "Hey, nobody's buying our product. Let's raise the price." -- Jay Leno, May 12, 2009.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day

In Downtown Hamp

State Street

Yesterday was a holiday, and the milkweed plants celebrated by sending forth beaucoup billions of their fluffy white selves, until they covered the ground like snow, as you can see on the woodland way into downtown Northampton.

Equally annoying were the swarms of those evil little gnats that drive you insane by trying to land on your eyeballs. Wait, how dare I complain about such petty things on the day that we remember those who endured - and still endure - genuine hardship and even death for our freedoms.

In Pulaski Park the reggae band The Black Rebels were performing for free.

A lot of reggae sounds the same to me, although I realize that is considered blasphemy to say in some circles. In any case the drummer and bassist were really good.

There were lots of people dancing.

Hula-hooping is big in Northampton.

The usual Northampton characters were onhand, like the guy who calls himself "Uncle Sam the Homeless Man."

Ira McKinley was capturing it all for posterity.

I decided to climb the fire-escape on the Academy of Music to see what I could see.

Looking down on the hacky-sack players.

The partying crowd.

Hope you had a good one.

Grad Stats

On Memorial Day Weekend they held the ceremonies for 419 Amherst College graduates. Here are some statistics released by the college.

• Nations and states represented by this year’s seniors: 21 countries (including Bulgaria, France, Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand, Poland and Singapore), 33 states and Washington, D.C.

• Top five most declared majors: Economics, English, psychology, political science and biology.

• Theses completed by members of the Class of 2009: 220.

• Seniors whose mother or father (or both) attended Amherst: 51.

• Employers of the new graduates: Massachusetts Audubon Society, Poverty Action Lab, Metropolitan Museum of Art, government of the Republic of Singapore, Infosys Consulting, U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Project Horseshoe Farm, Massachusetts General Hospital, Goldman Sachs, Teach for America, the U.S. Forest Service and Cravath, Swaine & Moore, among many organizations. Even in this challenging economic climate, members of the Class of 2009 are finding jobs, enrolling in graduate school programs, volunteering for nonprofits and taking the world by storm.

• Amount raised for the Class of 2009’s parting gift to the college, a donation to the Annual Fund: $13,633. $10,000 of that total is from an anonymous individual who would only give the money once 80 percent of the class had contributed; 82.2 percent of seniors have donated so far.

• Meals served on campus during commencement weekend: An estimated 5,500. The spread for all of the activities calls for 1,700 smoked turkey wraps, 500 vegetable wraps, 500 pounds of Southwestern corn and chicken salad, eight gallons of hummus, 2,400 pieces of Tuscan chicken, 800 pounds of vegan tortellini with roasted vegetables and 1,200 pounds of fresh fruit salad, among other goodies.

• Seats for graduation spectators: 5,000. That’s in addition to the 2,600 chairs and 300 tables that Amherst’s building and grounds crew arranges in front of Valentine Dining Hall for meals.

• Diplomas personally signed by Amherst President Anthony W. Marx: 419.

• Hours spent by the staff of the college’s registrar’s office rolling and affixing ribbon to every diploma by hand: About 25.

• Estimated amount of hand sanitizer available across campus: 3 gallons. The college is providing the antibacterial, waterless gels in two-, four- and eight-ounce containers and in dispensers in an effort to stem the spread of influenza germs. There will even be a dispenser on the stage at commencement for graduates who wish to disinfect their hands before receiving their diplomas.

• Graduates, friends and family members spending the weekend in the town of Amherst: Approximately 5,000.

Today's Video

No comment.

GAY = SIN from Matthew Brown on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

New Salem

Majestic View

Gee, so I do have time for a quick post after all. I went to a neat little town this afternoon called New Salem. It has these great old buildings in the town square like the one above, or the church below built in 1794.

But the real prize to be found when visiting New Salem requires you to go down this dirt road behind the old buildings, past a pile of newly cut logs.

Soon you will see picnic tables and a hint of the view beyond.

Here is the majestic vista to be seen at the end of the road, where you can see over the treetops the Quabbin and the hills and mountains beyond that enclose our great Valley.

Sitting at one of the tables was a historian doing some writing.

When he left I saw these words carved into the table.

Cool Shirt

My friend Rhythom has this t-shirt that says, "All My Heroes Have Always Killed Cowboys."

When he was young he didn't play cowboys and Indians. He played Native Peoples versus Western Imperialist Oppressors.