Man Dares to Invoke Property Rights in Vermont

This morning's Boston Globe carried an interesting piece detailing one property owner's quest to build a house on his own land, and the town that apparently has forgotten what property rights are.
When a former Wall Street analyst from Greenwich, Conn., set his sights on a lush parcel of 150 acres here, he knew he wanted to live atop its highest peak, surrounded by panoramic views and rippling meadows studded with red clover, Vermont's state flower.

There was only this hitch: A short distance from the site where J. Michel Guite envisioned building a house was a white picket-fenced burial ground with the graves of a War of 1812 veteran... Guite was concerned that the cemetery would trouble his children when they played in the tall-grass fields.

The cemetery, he decided, had to go. He gave notice that he intended to move three of the marked grave sites.

Sounds great. A 150-year-old cemetery is in your way on your own property. Move it! But wait... what's that sound? Oh yes. Lawyers, and protests from townspeople.
"With the lust and greed for development breathing down the necks of some of the most beautiful and special places in Vermont, it is our responsibility to protect and preserve the sanctity, integrity, and history of our cemeteries," Joy Fagan, president of the Vermont Cemetery Association, wrote in a letter to the court. ...

"When somebody is buried, you'd think that the future generation would not even think about moving it for personal gain," said Richard Brousseau... {emphasis added}

Well there you have it. An evil, greedy man is trying to use his property as he sees fit, for his own personal gain! Anathema! And he's going to try and move skeletons to do it! Outrage!

The law in Vermont in narrowly defined such that only certain relatives can legally protest a cemetery move, and none exist in this case. In the end, Guite actually won his case, despite the fact that the meddlers found a distant relative to officially protest the move. They found Marcia Neal from Colorado, who is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Noah Aldrich.

The thing is, she eventually changed her mind and sided with Guite, and in the process, really ticked off the townsfolk. Citing her "Western-bred belief in the sanctity of private property" she "reached a deal with Guite under which she agreed to remove her opposition to his plans, and he agreed to move the graves to one of two nearby sites. Neal said she received no monetary compensation."

When the townspeople got upset with her, she had this to say:
"It's just my judgment," she said. "Who am I to say that I'm right and they're wrong?"
Sigh. Still, though she doesn't know to have the courage to stand up and say "It's my judgment, and it's right!", she did actually make the right decision.

The judge in the case ruled correctly, but wasn't happy about it.
But the judge, Joanne Ertel, noted that she had little choice but to permit the move because of a restrictive Vermont law. She went on to say: "Despite the fervent and far-reaching opposition to his plans, Mr. Guite has persisted in his quest. The court finds it difficult to fathom his persistence in the face of such widespread and heartfelt opposition. It's hard to imagine introducing yourself to a community with an action that the community finds abhorrent."
To which I would say, "To hell with the community! It's my goddamn land!" I hope everything works out for Guite, but it doesn't look good. Someone else is considering a lawsuit, and others are calling for new legislation.
Meanwhile, calls have gone up for the Legislature to revise a Vermont statute - which permits only a narrow band of immediate relatives to object to a cemetery move. {Judge} Ertel also urged the Legislature to take up the matter.

"Perhaps, it is time for the Vermont Legislature to consider protecting the sanctity of old cemeteries because of the strong community sentiment expressed so eloquently by so many Vermonters who continue to have that strong sense of community, faith, and tradition," she wrote in her decision. {emphasis added}
Yes, they have a strong sense of tradition. Unfortunately, it's the wrong one. They instead should refer to ideas from the time of Noah Aldrich and the War of 1812 that they have apparently abandoned; they would then be able to see that property rights trump all their whining about "lust" and "greed" and "heartfelt opposition." In fact, I'd bet that if Aldrich were able to speak up on the matter (and if he were a good old obstinate and no nonsense Yankee) he'd say "Leave the man alone! It's his land; let him do with it as he sees fit."

Instead, we're left with meddling gnats who believe that their wants, emotions and "strong community sentiment" are a necessary claim on the property of others.


Unknown said...

You're way off base with your opinion here. If you think about it someone who lived back then would likely revere God and the Bible. They would probably be appalled at the thought of moving someone's final resting place. I would also point out the fact that he purchased the property, and had he done due dillegence before the sale, he would have realized there was a cemetery on the property and more specificly on his building site. Come on now, the man has 150 acres of land, but he has to build on top of the cemetery. Apparently he's never seen Poltergeist!

Seriously, we've lost respect for a lot of things in this country, but uprooting graves so you can a have a nice view is just wrong.

As a Vermonter I really try to avoid using stereotypes, but there's one local saying we have here that really does apply...."Fucking flatlanders!

C. August said...

Thanks for stopping by, cidman. While I appreciate you taking the time to comment, you could not be more wrong on more fundamental issues if you tried.

First, you say that someone who was old enough to fight in the War of 1812 "would likely revere God and the Bible." While that is possible, there were plenty of high profile men at that time who did no such thing. Adams, Jefferson, Paine, Henry, Madison... at most they were largely deists, and more than anything they revered Individual Rights. The predominant altruist ethic of today was not big at the time.

If Noah Aldrich was a man of his times, he was likely schooled as much in the natural rights of man and the laissez-faire role of government as he was in the altruist-collectivist nature of modern-day evangelical Christianity.

So your implicit point that the Founders (and people of the time) were predominantly fundamentalist Christians is patently wrong.

Seriously, we've lost respect for a lot of things in this country, but uprooting graves so you can a have a nice view is just wrong.

You are very right that we have lost respect for many things. The most fundamental of those being a respect for basic individual rights -- chief among those the right to property -- and that loss leads us to the situation where the idea that "you have 150 acres... therefore the society has the right to tell you what to do with them" is somehow not seen as an abomination.

Seriously. Is the fact that a man is successful cause for him being beholden to society, in your eyes? Is that really what you're saying?

Your last paragraph is barely worth mentioning. I think you were just trying to be cute.

The one solid, "testable" thing you said is that uprooting graves to gain a nice view is "just wrong". I'd like to hear a reasoned argument for this position. As I see it, bones are bones are bones. If the Aldrich ancestors did not place enough value on the cemetery to ensure its survival, then how is it special in any way? And what innate value is somehow imbued into the site such that "society" can come in and lay claim? The new owner is going above and beyond, offering to move things. He is fully within rights to bulldoze the whole place.

If you have more reasoned arguments to offer, dealing in the fundamentals of the issue, please post them. As it is, you have simply echoed the unthinking, superficial arguments of the townsfolk, railing against a nasty rich guy because he refuses to accept your claim on his property; a claim that rests on nothing more than the virtue of the fact that you're one of "the community" and he therefore owes you.

Anonymous said...

Dear C. August,

Your recent comments about Vermont cemetery were admirably clearly written, with verve and conviction and humor! Because I was highlighted in the Boston Globe's initial gossipy tall tale, I sent you some comments two weeks ago. If my poor logic or authorship kept you from using this, you were probably right. However if a transmission error caused you to not use, please advise, and perhaps I can fax a paper copy?

C. August said...

Anon, I'm glad you enjoyed my comments on the case. I never received anything as far as I can tell, so if you wish to contact me directly, try titanic.deckchairs at gmail.com

I take it from your comment that you were involved in the situation somehow?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply, and will resend comments when back in Vermont this weekend. I am the person moving three Vermont graves, and restoring broken gravestones, with consent of the family. When I offered to buy this farm, subject to moving these graves, had no idea so many strangers would become so agitated, and in retrospect I didn't do a very good job explaining the situation. More to come . . .

C. August said...

I look forward to hearing more about what you're up against.

And one brief thought... While you may think that you should have explained the situation better in order to avoid the meddling of strangers, the crux of the issue is that you should never have had to explain anything.

It is your property. Just because others may be offended or outraged for whatever silly reason does not give them a claim to decide how you should use it.

Yours is the moral side, and justice would be for all of those meddling gnats to leave you alone.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Some months ago I promised to reply to your interesting comments in support of moving a little cemetery on my farm in Hartland Four Corners, VT.

Because this topic sparked substantial outside-of-Vermont interest, including a Boston Globe page one headline, a Yahoo News 'Top-10 Stories of the Week' ranking (with an accompanying story of man asking to be buried in a beer can), and was featured in dozens of newspapers across the country, I have wondered how to reply.

The following might help.

Hartland Four Corners, VT, is a community of kind and welcoming people, and Vermonters, and Hsrtland residents, are tolerant of situations much more peculiar than moving a small cemetery. For these reasons, it seemed to me the Globe article was a bit patronizing about Vermont and Vermonters. Vermonters in my region, for example, have had the highest Internet usage in North America, year after year, for over a decade. Vermonters are informed, practical, with some of the best high school rankings in the U.S., and a tradition of integrity and fairness.

So here are a couple of facts the Globe overlooked you might find of interest.

The Globe story began by reporting that many local Vermonters were outraged because the grave of a Noah Adrich, who died on the farm in 1856, was being moved, after Noah so bravely served as a veteran of the War of 1812! I suppose it isn't terribly important, but Noah Aldrich of Hartland, VT, was never a veteran of any war, and few people allege that he was. A Hartland resident who gained notoriety for being part of an astounding 10 years of environmental lawsuits against the local Unified Buddhist Church who formerly used my farm as a meditation retreat, apparently found the Globe reporter, or they found each other, and agreed together Noah was a veteran. However, veteran's names are easily confirmed via the Internet. Most hard-working Vermonters don't have time to get outraged over this sort of silly allegation.

Similarly the Globe photo of a white-picket-fenced cemetery is a fun, and gossipy, tall tale not supported by facts. The US government publishes aerial photos of most U.S. farmland, and has done since about 1938. This data, too, is on the Internet, and makes clear what most Hartland residents already know. The picturesque white picket fence, and charming cemetery sign, and stately trees in the Globe's photograph, were installed in 1983 by a nice lady from Beverly Hills, CA, named Stacey Sevano, whose husband was a TV producer and former manager for Frank Sinatra. Stacey rarely visited the farm, sold after two years, and according to local lore first came to the farm driving a 1955 T-Bird. Her T-Bird has more historical significance than anything so many millions of Globe and Yahoo viewers saw on the Globe's front-page photo. I don't under-estimate the importance of Stacey Sevano's contributions to history. I would love to hear some of her memories about Frank Sinatra. However the stage set she built in Hartland, VT, in 1983, is simply not the same as 1770 history.

Yes, I am moving some Aldrich graves from 1770-1853. These graves were placed on an open and tilled farm field, according to local custom. Then, before the family departed in 1853, they placed three headstones. Now, after 150 years of weather, and more recent acid rain and vandalism, these are all badly damaged. One stone is a 5% fragment, and was found buried with 95% gone. One is a 55% fragment, with 45% gone. All three are being restored in Boston, and the graves relocated to a new and protected site several hundred feet distant. The Aldrich family supports this move. Most people in Hartland do too, and take the reasonable view that -- weith 700 or 800 such tiny private family cemeteries in Vermont -- family members and property owners have the sole right to make decisions about how these should be treated.

Anyway that's the summary. No Aldrich veteran of 1812. The ancient cemetery is mostly a Hollywood stage set. The graves were in an open field and are being moved to a more protected site, with Aldrich family support.

I admired that you -- more than many other outside-Vermont sources -- brought some welcome humor and skepticism to this gossipy Boston Globe report. Come up and visit. We have some 800 lb bales of hay for sale.

Best regards,

Michel Guite
South Meadow Farm

Anonymous said...

The other side of the coin.

I am writing on behalf of all of those who have been active in protesting Mr. Guite's plans to disinter the Aldrich-Kendall Cemetery in Hartland, Vermont.

I am not against landowner rights at all. Mr. Guite bought this property and all of its breath-taking scenic beauty as well as all of its warts...namely the Act 250 and standing State Permits that had been attached to the land and the cemetery and all of there encumbrances. Any good lawyer worth their salt would have looked over the whole thing and astutely assessed the situation. Obviously, his lawyers were well paid and still are. If loopholes are to be found, I am very sure that they will find them or make them up as they go.

That being said, Mr. Guite has maintained an innocent "Who? Me?" persona for the past 1-1/2 years and all the while double-stepping and side-stepping as he goes, hence the invite for hay. This has nothing to do with hay. In no state in the nation is there an opportunity to rip up a 200-year-old cemetery (with or without a veteran - he was a patriot. This is just another side-step.) for kicks and giggles without process, why is Vermont the "bad guy" here?

I was there in the court room when he, in open court, compared his neighbors to the Zantop murderers, while stating that he just wants to get along peacefully in Hartland. I must admit, he has an unusual way of making friends and influencing people, again and again. Please check the newspapers, which, unfortunately have been truthfully reported to a fault. No one could make up this stuff and it is really a case where truth is stranger than fiction. Folks go just for chuckles now, just to see what he will come up with in court, only to refute to the reporters in the next day press. No wonder that the press (i.e. Boston Globe, Associated Press, Valley News, Rutland Herald, LA times, papers in France, Michigan, New York Times, the Dallas-Ft Wroth Times and COUNTLESS others... ) are all over this. True that they are also having a field day. Where else could you find material that just constantly writes itself in these tough times and to such a constant extent????

Just to set the record straight, Mr. Guite is not from Vermont, or Connecticut, or New York. Therefore, he can't even qualify for the flatlander comment. He was born in Canada, educated at Harvard (USA), made his money in New York (USA), lives in Connecticut (USA), married an American trophy wife (USA) and has a "Summer cottage" in Vermont (USA) (amongst other states) where he owns VTel (Springfield, Vt, USA) his hobby. I find it almost hysterical that this year's Harvard business graduates have signed a pledge to do no evil, and always do civil good with their power and money. Obviously, that was not an alumnus moral. As an American, I am feeling very used. I just wonder where his grandmother is buried in Canada and if Canada would let me return the favor.

Anonymous said...

It comes to light that against all pre-existing Vermont State Act 250 regulations regarding the cemetery that were in place before Mr. Guite purchased the property, with or without the public uprising that has happened. Mr Guite has removed all of the headstones (against the law) for maintenance (against the law) and the fence (mandated by law, NOT Hollywood staging by previous owners as alluded to by Mr. Guite in previous attempts at humor...silly man) encroached on a 50-foot buffer zone enacted by a pre-existing Act 250 (Oh, yes...illegal again). Also, he has removed private property from those families that he has no permission to have removed. He has thumbed his nose at every law in the state and tried to buy off all those who are not governed by it. As I can understand, and as stated in the newspaper last winter, he has promised an all-expense paid trip from Colorado to Vermont AND a donation to her political campaign for a State Education position to one of the Aldrich descendants. The donation was acknowledged on her website.

He has also vowed to have the cemetery moved this summer, no matter what. His appeal from the Act 250 board has been denied, and his appeal to appeal has also been denied. I guess I am not too sure how his plans are to proceed, but I can only imagine.

This has always been about "humor" for him. Every picture that I have ever seen, he is grinning. I am really not sure if it is true a smile, or just a money-logged smirk. I haven't decided. Please let me know if you don't find a little of this just a bit unpalatable. Fore-warned is fore-armed, and I am awaiting reply with baited breath!

C. August said...

Anon, I've posted my reply to your comments in a new post. You can find it here:


Anonymous said...

2010 begins the third year of the Aldrich Cemetery situation. More information provided to the Environment Court Judge has caused her to state that ownership of the Aldrich Cemetery will be revisited.
Robert and Dorothy King who use to own the property are buried there. Their son Jerome, would like to visit their grave twice a year for a short time, but is presently being denied. A decision will be made by Vermont Superior Court regarding this issue perhaps this year.

Anonymous said...

Here is the end of the story.....so far.I am sure that Mr. Guite will resurrect this somehow. He never could let dead men lie.


The ruling is highly entertaining.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog, and I agree completely with what YOU have to say here. That story was ridiculous garbage, and not even journalism. Why do we target people who are successful, as if THAT is against the law in Vermont.

Michel Guite has done many wonderful things for our community in Springfield, Vermont. He is a good person, but a strong personality. He will stand up for himself. I like that. Good for him. The people against him would never have let him alone for even considering the move. They acted crazy. So why stop and give in to them?

Thomas Aldrich said...

This case has been decided in favor of the petitioner. However, after reading the land grant to the buyer you can see the original intent and what it implied:

the deed included the following language: “We . . . do freely give grant sell convey and confirm . . . a certain piece of land lying and being in Hartland . . . . Possession to be given the first day of April 1854.

With that being said in the deed it's very obvious that the original owner was NOT selling his family plot. The only problem is that the original owner should have also asked for an easement so the family plot would easily be accessible but, the fact remains, HE DID NOT SELL THE FAMILY PLOT!

C. August said...

Thanks for the update Mr. Aldrich. This blog has gone dormant, but I can see why this particular post may still be getting traffic.

I found a recent Boston Globe article that sums up the case. From the article:

The Vermont Supreme Court found in Guite's favor in 2011. The cemetery, it turned out, never belonged to Guite or to King; it belonged all along to the Aldrich clan, and two dozen Aldrich descendants had given Guite their written blessing.

“He jumped through all the hoops,” said Town Manager Robert Stacey.

The new cemetery is set close to Town Hill Road, and three white headstones, restored at Guite’s expense, stand in the rear of the enclosure. ...

Opponents acknowledge that Guite, who paid for the archeologists, did the grim work with more care than was required, but they say that’s not the point. ...

To my reading, it sounds like this worked out for all legitimate parties involved, especially including the man who owns the property.

Unknown said...

Mr. August, you may be wondering how I found my way here. A local friend of mine (Troy, NY) whose last name is Herrick got me to tracing where the Herrick and Aldrich lines crossed.
ID: I123636
Name: Noah ALDRICH
Sex: M
Birth: 21 JAN 1787 in Hartland, Windsor Co., VT
Death: 15 JAN 1848 in Randolph, Orange Co., VT
His parents were
Father: Isaiah ALDRICH
Mother: Lydia Woodward HERRICK b: 20 JAN 1791
When checking out the new Aldrich Cemetery I found that they were also buried there. I also found the post on genealogy.com about the original cemetery being sold.

I used to be the Vice President of a local group, Mount Ida Preservation Association. We were a group of volunteers that took care of 2 Mt. Ida Cemeteries (the original one aka: Old Troy Burial Ground was shut down by City Council back in 1926). Back during 1956 - 1960 we used to hunt pheasant using bow and arrows and I remembered seeing many gravestones in there despite the fact that most of it was overgrown. I had moved away around 1971, came back here in 2000 and found that the City of Troy had bulldozed the cemetery back in the early 1990's! That's when I was told the graves had been moved to the present Mt. Ida Cemetery and to Oakwood Cemetery also here in Troy. The 2 main headstones I was concerned about were of Uncle Sam, Samuel Wilson who packed meat for the Union Soldiers during the Civil War and stamped it with US. His father had also been buried there and he was a Veteran of the Revolutionary War. Uncle Sam had been moved to Oakwood Cemetery but I'm not so sure his father and other Revolutionary War Veterans were as well. It brought to mind one of John McCains phrases he liked to use "well you're not a Patriot" and the fact that most politicians only want to use Veterans as a "photo op"! Other than that they could care less about our Veterans. :(
While working with / for the Mount Ida Preservation Association I was always looking for ways to get Veterans headstones repaired or replaced (we have a lot of Veterans buried here from the French & Indian Wars and all other Wars all the way up to Iraq. It perturbs me to no end to see how our Veterans, living and dead, are mistreated and not getting what they were promised. That's why the Aldrich Cemetery being sold got my attention real quick. Well, you and your family have a Happy New Year.