We heard the musket fire first, and then around the corner came a troop of somber Yankee soldiers marching up Main Street to the sound of cheering crowds, patriotic band music, and American flags flapping in the wind.

The Yankees are Coming!

The Yankees are Coming!

The tiny town of Gilsum, New Hampshire (pop. 777) hasn’t changed much over the years, and you could almost believe these Yankees were for real. Until a guy in a tri-cornered hat wandered by, and then Uncle Sam showed up on stilts and further confused the centuries. When the Monadnock High School band marched by, we were firmly back in 2013, celebrating my adopted town’s 250th birthday with a parade.

Wobbling Sam
Wobbling Sam

One of Gilsum’s claims to fame is that President Calvin Coolidge once stopped at the local inn when his entourage was lost in these hills. The burning question has always been, “Is it legend, or did the proprietors really serve the president a plain onion sandwich?” Turns out a descendant of the innkeeper was here for the festivities; he confirmed that yes, that’s what they gave Coolidge. That’s what was in the garden. Then, to put the matter thoroughly to rest, Coolidge himself showed up at the old inn and expressed his gratitude for the sustenance.

Calvin Coolidge holding forth

Calvin Coolidge holding forth

I spent a good part of the afternoon at the Historical Society, sifting through old pictures and news reports. I’m told that there is only one Gilsum in the world; its name is a mix of the last names of the two guys who founded it: Sumner and Gilbert.

Gilsum has always been a place of import, as you can see from these newclips:

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My house was properly honored throughout the day — at 231 years old, it’s the oldest house in town. Quiet Hills is featured on a commemorative calendar, on greeting cards, and on the “town quilt” made by the local quilting club, which I most unfairly did not win in the raffle.

Not My Quilt

Not My Quilt

The most exciting moment came when I happened upon an old Bible that had belonged to “the widow Mary Baker” who died in the front room of my house in the 1800s. She is one of several ghosts that keep me company here.

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I make the 500-mile trek to visit my Gilsum ghosts six or seven times each year. Next time  I’m stuck in New York traffic or driving through a downpour in deer country at dusk wondering why I keep this rickety old house, with its mice and mildew and cracked, drafty windows, I’ll rememberwith all the pomposity and punditry that comes with living in the D.C. area, it’s nice to be in the real America once in a while.

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Happy Birthday, Gilsum!

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