October 31, 2014

The ghost of Halloween present

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Joe Citro, supernatural storyteller extraordinaire, pauses for suspense during a Saturday afternoon appearance at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

Joe Citro speaks to library listeners

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The “Ghost-Master General” was on schedule Saturday, delivering a package of supernatural tales to a 1 p.m. gathering at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library.

Joseph A. Citro, Vermont’s foremost chronicler of all things ghostly and ghoulish, is the author of a half dozen works of bone-chilling fiction and nine books “that might not be fiction,” per his website.

Yet despite appearing less than a week before Halloween, Citro’s talk was more concerned with the metaphysical mysteries of the paranormal.

“In the final analysis, we still don’t know what ghosts really are. The knee-jerk definition is that they are the spirits of the dead, but we don’t know that. No one has ever proved it,” Citro said. “But whatever they are, people continue to see them.”

Dressed in blue jeans and a baseball cap, his black blazer and T-shirt providing stark contrast to his snow white beard, Citro spoke with the deliberate pacing of a practiced orator.

He spoke of the fabled Dutton House, which despite being disassembled and relocated from Cavendish, Vt. to the Shelburne Museum, is still alleged by museum staff to be haunted by inexplicable noises and shifting furniture.

He told the tale of a French Canadian woman named Marie Blais, who was hit by a train in 1900 near Burlington’s Queen City Cotton Mill. Her ghost was allegedly sighted by hundreds of millworkers and ghost hunters—until 1908, when the city built a pedestrian footbridge under the elevated tracks and her apparition was no longer reported.

But the weirdest of all of Citro’s Saturday afternoon stories was a firsthand account of what he pledges is “swear on a Bible true.”

It occurred in 1994, in the kitchen of his house in Burlington’s south end, where he heard “a muted screech, a constant unwavering sound.” Entering the kitchen, he discovered “one single drinking glass: a thick, squat French tumbler spinning on its base, spinning perfectly, like a top, slightly angled, though not rocking or wobbling, spinning with an aerodynamic certainty so unbelievably fast that it, by itself, seemed to be generating the high-pitched whining sound.”

He recalled that as he stared at the spinning glass, it suddenly exploded, “like a wine glass shattered by an opera singer in a TV commercial.”

Haunted and puzzled, Citro said he consulted with a Burlington neighbor, Dr. Donald Slish, a biology professor across the lake at SUNY Plattsburgh. According to Citro, Slish conjectured that the exploding glass was a phenomenon so atypical that it can’t be scientifically studied.

“How can such things be studied, when they occur rarely and non-repeatedly?” Citro asked, paraphrasing Slish’s rhetorical question. “Dr. Don, I think, had just eloquently summed up the essence of my life’s work.”

In conclusion, Citro suggested that his tale of spinning glassware is no stranger than the more macabre events which populate his fiction stories.

“In the entire scheme of world weirdness, I must question the unremarkable nature of this seemingly insignificant event,” Citro said. “Bigfoot sightings, UFO reports, monster tales and ghost stories are weird, but are they any weirder than a singing, exploding tumbler?”

The question, like any great ghost story, was left unanswered.

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