Fitting Burlington into a book is no easy task. The eccentricgamut of its residents included in Robert J. Resnik’s recently released Legendary Locals of Burlington leavesyou with a sense of just why that may be.
Forty years as a Burlington resident and 13 as a reference librarian at the Fletcher Free Library qualify Resnik for this job, for the story of Burlington is catalogued in its people. (Full disclosure: He is an occasional contributor to Seven Days.)
Arcadia Publishing approached Resnik to write the Burlington installment in its Legendary Locals series.
"You get these emails that say, 'Congratulations, you have been selected for the jerks of New England. Write the book and you'll receive your $25 check in the mail,'" Resnik quipped in a phone call.
But that email lingered in his inbox until he decided to take on the challenge of writing short-and-sweet stories about nearly 100 Queen City residents, past and present, who have some claim to fame. More than 200 photographs help tell their tales.
"It's amazing how I got a real sense of responsibility," Resnik said. "What can you do in 120 pages of pictures and captions? There's no way you can touch all the bases."
As a self-professed foodie and music nut, Resnik resisted the urge to weight the book too heavily toward his personal interests. Instead, he divvied up Burlington's "legends" into seven chapters and included an introduction detailing Burlington's origins as a township, granted on June 7, 1763. A century later, the lucrative trading post founded by Ethan and Ira Allen evolved into the city of Burlington. And the rest is history, literally. Legendary Locals brings us up to entries as recent as Dave and Jenny Rooke, who began home-brewing all-natural Rookie's Root Beer in 2005.
"With every entry I had to ask, 'Has this person really done something to make Burlington what it is today?'" said Resnik, explaining the challenge of winnowing down the multitude of eligible candidates.
WPTZ-Channel 5 meteorologist Tom Messner made the cut, and flashes his familiar smile from his page inChapter 2, which features "Stars of Media and Multimedia." Cocking his head to one side and holding an inside-out umbrella, Messner offers an "Oh well" assessment of Vermont's weather. (Another disclosure: This chapter also includes a bit on Seven Days co-founders Pamela Polston and Paula Routly, as well as on late political columnist Peter Freyne.)
In Chapter 3, librarian Lorrie Colburn, who decided that the Fletcher Free should check out garden tools in addition to books, is one of manycharacters that give Burlington its small-town feel. The "Dumpling Lady," Hong Yu, "HotDog Lady" Lois Bodoky (who retired to California, in case you were wondering), and late "ClarinetMan" Richard Haupt receive accolades for their Church Street friendliness.
Flipping through Resnik’s compilation can instill in fellow locals a sense ofpride. And, if you're old enough, it's a walk down Memory Lane.
"You see something like Wes' wall, and the next 10 to 15 years, when my generation is dying out or moving away, no one's going to have any idea that that happened," he said, referring to the photographic mural once installed by the late artist Wes Disney on a brick wall at Cherry and Church streets.
(Pictured above right: artist dug Nap. Photo courtesy of Ben Resnik.)
Resnik looks back to the late 1970s, when Burlington experienced an influx of newcomers and a corresponding cultural renaissance of sorts.
"Things were pretty bleak in the mid-’70s," admitted Resnik, who visited Vermont long before moving here, as his familial roots in Vermont trace back to the 1890s.
"In 1970, you'd think it was 1958," he added. "[Burlington] was charming, in its own way, but it was really kind of a mind warp."
Story after story of artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and "characters" in Legendary Locals reveal the Queen City to be a place where people do what they love and love what they do.
So it's no surprise to read that Ethan and Sara Goodwin Brown, owners of Great Harvest Bread Co., give out generous free samples of homemade bread daily at their Pine Street bakery. The couple is featured in the chapter called "Entrepreneurs, Land Barons and Businesses Large and Small." The photo of mom, dad and two adorable youngsters makes their business look like the best thing since, well, sliced bread.
Perhaps Legendary Locals of Burlington is less a book than the city’s long-awaited family photo album.
Arcadia Publishing says its Legendary Locals series is dedicated to the preservation and accessibility of American history. Burlington is one of 82 cities in the series so far. The 125-page read is available for $21.99 at area bookstores or through Arcadia Publishing online.
(Pictured right: Val Carter, one of Burlington's first radio personalities. Photo courtesy of Hall Communications and Carter's family.)