|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XX NUMBER 3 Spring 2005|
If Words Could Kill...
The Salem witches, the Kennedys, and the Red Sox are among the most famous ones. Others, while less celebrated, have lasted longer or run through more generations.
They are the cursers and the cursed of the six-state region, recently compiled by Joseph A. Citro '71 of Burlington, Vermont, into a book, Cursed in New England: A Tale of Damned Yankees (The Globe Pequot Press, 2004).
In some instances, one individual has borne the brunt of the curse. In others, whole towns have been affected. In the case of the Red Sox, a whole region felt the effects. But that one, as the whole world knows, has been reversed.
It still serves as an example of "the power of words," as Joe puts it. Most of these curses go way back to New England's historical roots. They weren't reversed and the only reason they ended is that all the intended victims were destroyed.
Joe finds curses that were followed by mysterious afflictions in Massachusetts, a ghostly presence in a church in Rhode Island, a river of death in Maine, an unaccountable blight in New Hampshire, unexplained madness in Connecticut, and other eerie happenings from New England's colorful history. He also writes about his own visits to some of the accursed locations.
"While researching my other books on Vermont and New England lore, I'd come across a curse story here and there," he said. "I always found them interesting and kind of scary – the notion that simple words can kill or cause destruction. I guess, as a writer, the power of words has always appealed to me, but not in a supernatural sense. This was a new way of looking at word power. So, for about a year or a year and a half, I studied and wrote about curses. The first printing sold out almost immediately."
Our fascination with curses is part of our belief system, says Joe, "whether we want to admit it or not. Anyone with a religious upbringing has been exposed to the notion of curses. The Bible is full of them. A curse is really a prayer, but a prayer for something bad to happen. It is a malediction, the opposite of a benediction."
Is he a believer? "Sure," he says. "But I also believe it takes two believers to make a curse: the curser and the cursee, if you will."
Since 1992, Joe has had a regular commentary series on Vermont Public Radio focused on New England's history and mysteries. "I try to round up the region's little-known stories – all the weird stuff, ghosts, monsters, madmen, treasure stories, curse stories, whatever – and put them back into the oral tradition where they belong. As far as I know, no one else is doing this sort of thing these days. Years ago people like Alton Blackington were spinning Yankee yarns on the radio. I like to think I'm preserving that tradition."
In addition, he is working on a book about New England oddities and writing a novel. And he's moving into a different medium, working with a production company to make a movie based on some of the weird Vermont tales he's collected.
Joe spent his freshman year living in Keene State's allegedly haunted Huntress Hall. "I'd heard the Harriet Huntress story while living there [circa 1967], but never had any experiences that would buttress belief in her ghost. In fact, I'm not too sure how to integrate ghosts into my belief system."
One thing Joe is surer about is his ability to lift curses. He closes his book of damned Yankees with the story of the Red Sox curse. "I may have to reword the ending a bit," he concedes. "But actually it was I who lifted the Red Sox curse. I was practicing my newfound skills of laying and lifting curses. Lifting the Red Sox curse was easy. I'm afraid I was less successful laying the curse that was intended to influence the 2004 election."
Find out more about Joe and his projects at www.josephacitro.com.
Barbara Hall is Class Notes editor of Keene State Today.