Guite Speaks Out On Vermont Property Rights Case

In July, I wrote about what I saw as a case of the state meddling with the property rights of a citizen who simply wanted to build a nice house on his own property. The conflict came in because he needed to move -- respectfully, of course -- a small 200-year old family cemetery to do it. After being taken to court over it, the owner of the land, Michel Guite, won.

A month later, Michel, who is also the President of the Vermont Telephone Company, kindly left some comments on my blog, and promised to respond with more detail later. He did so last week, and agreed to let me repost his comments here. You might want to read my original post first to get a sense of what the issues were and how the Boston Globe reported it.
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 Hartland 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 Aldrich, 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 -- with 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

I just might have to make a visit! Though I'm not sure what I'd do with 800lbs of hay... Now, if we were talking about fresh maple syrup, that would be another story.

All in all, this is a perfect case study reinforcing the need to question virtually every word written in the newspaper. My thanks go to Michel for giving us this behind-the-scenes view.


Monica said...

"this is a perfect case study reinforcing the need to question virtually every word written in the newspaper"

Unfortunately SO TRUE. Thanks for this enlightening story.

LOG ME IN said...

Oh, I could use the hay, if only it were closer. I buy 5-6 tons per year for my two horses. I got 5 tons this fall, but another 800 pounds might be nice. Hopefully, we'll get enough rain in the spring and I won't need it.


Tenure said...

Monica: But then I'm left asking: what can be done to fix this? The papers aren't exactly regulated. Certainly, we don't have a perfectly rational culture, but I'm not sure exactly how this process of 'rational culture'='rational paper' thing works.

I remember when I read 'The Fountainhead', realising that Gail Wynand was wrong in what he did, but not understanding exactly how the culture of Americans led him to that. How exactly do we encourage good newspapers?

Anonymous said...

I thought that Guite's plans were in opposition to the Act 250 permit that he "inherited" from the Budhists which stated that the graves couldn't be disturbed. The same judge is hearing both the Act 250 hearings and the cemetary hearings - I would think she's tired of this case!