Laughter and outrage a sign of the times in Stubridge … er, Sturbridge

Homemade sign posted, later painted over, finally removed

By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer

STURBRIDGE — Anger, name-calling, laughter, parody, and more. Emotions ran high and the entire spectrum over the last several days for members of a popular social media group as locals chided and chortled at a crudely made sign posted along Route 20 late last week. That sign was defaced on Tuesday before being removed altogether.

As previously reported by The Citizen Chronicle, a handcrafted white wooden sign with black lettering mysteriously appeared on a utility pole outside the Sturbridge Early Learning Academy, located at 440 Main Street. The sign, featured multiple spelling and grammatical errors, and read: “WELCOM TO FISKDALE NOT STUBRIDGE YOU ALL.” It faced westbound traffic on Route 20.

In the Facebook group “Sturbridge MA Community,” numerous threads quickly popped up throughout the Labor Day weekend and into today, all debating and discussing the sign. Local reaction has run the gamut, with some viewing the sign’s posting as a harmless prank and others expressing outrage.

After The Citizen Chronicle first reported the story on Monday, some members of the group discussed turning the sign’s scrawl into a t-shirt design that could be sold. “Sturbridge MA Community” member Heather Elliott took the sign’s message and created a graphic representation of the proposed apparel, adding the caption: “Celebrate your Fiskdale pride (NOT Stubridge) with a limited edition Welcom sign tee. 😂😂 #FiskdalePride #Stubridge #welcom #youall

Members of the group reported that an unidentified woman was seen on Tuesday morning attempting to cover over the message with black spray paint. A photo from “Sturbridge MA Community” member Fritzi Foster showed much of the sign’s text was no longer legible beneath the spray paint. The image also showed a fainter black spray paint around “WELCOM,” almost serving to highlight the text, which the graffiti artist had amended in an effort to correct the misspelling by adding the letter “E” below the word.

Chuck Amaru added his own satirical comment to the mix, calling for locals to band together and picket while voters hit the polls for today’s primary elections. “Is it me, or should we all be gathering at OSV with (properly spelled) signs today greeting voters alerting them of SignGate?,” Amaru wrote. “Is it too late to get a solution whipped up and placed on the ballot for vote? Citizens for Fisk-bridge?
Stubidians against signage?”

As the day wore on, more threads popped up and scores of comments fueled both the anger and comedy. Community member Jim Aktiv jokingly fanned the flames by promoting a “Rumble on the common tonight …. 01518 vs 01566,” citing the zip codes for Fiskdale and Sturbridge, respectively. Rich Dalrymple responded with a GIF of famed boxing announcer Michael Buffer’s trademark “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!”

Fiskdale is a village within the town of Sturbridge and, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, is home to roughly 28 percent of the municipality’s residents. Fiskdale has its own post office and zip code, but is governed locally by the Sturbridge Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator. The area is named after the Fiske brothers — Henry, Josiah, and Lyman — who developed a brick textile mill in that part of town in 1828.

Foster found a silver lining in the debate — an awareness of some local history. She proposed the idea of erecting a legitimate sign recognizing some of the history of the Fiskdale part of town.

“While this has been a lot of fun, it has brought out some issues that some newer residents may be unaware of. Historically, Fiskdale was where the immigrant mill workers lived,” Foster wrote. “The feeling that they were second class citizens was kept alive for a very long time. Even though it was necessary, didn’t help that the post office kept telling them not to use Sturbridge as their address. Then add to that the strict signage reputation we have…. At this point, it seems to me that a really nice sign celebrating the historical significance of Fiskdale might be a nice idea.”

It was soon after 7 p.m. on Tuesday that Denise Albert-Seguin, another member of the closed Facebook group, shared a photo of the now bare utility pole with the caption: “Here lies nothing … R.I.P. STUBRIDGE … love Fiskdale… ” Numerous responses followed, including a GIF of a lit candle with “Rest In Peace” beneath it. Another commenter, Bonnie Rice Eaton, quipped: “We should start a memorial shrine for the sign…. balloons, candles. Oh yes, and a teddy bear.”

The sign appeared to strike a nerve for some, while serving as a source of levity for others. Over the weekend, several comments called for the sign to be taken down, labeling it as “awful,” “disturbing,” “ridiculous,” and “embarrassing.” While some wondered aloud whether the police department would take down the homemade sign, numerous other individuals suggested someone ought to take matters into their own hands and take the sign down. As the Labor Day weekend wore on, at least one local decided to try and do just that.

Lyn Bradley, a Sturbridge resident of 19 years, was so bothered by the sign that she grabbed a hammer and tried to personally take down the sign on Monday morning.

“Obviously we all want it gone, but no one has the gumption to do it. I tried,” she told The Citizen Chroniclein an interview. Bradley said that her effort to remove the sign was in vain because “the nails were tightly nailed in and it required stronger tools and greater muscle” than she has.

Bradley said she first saw the sign in person last week. Her initial reaction? “Unintelligent stupidity making townspeople look like hillbillies,” she said.

Others have taken the sign in stride. In the “Sturbridge MA Community” group page, Jeff Strause channeled the campaign rhetoric of President Donald Trump by quipping: “Build the wall.” Others, such as Jeffrey Choquet, jumped in by suggesting that Fiskdale would pay for the wall, while Jessica O’Toole reconfigured the President’s “Make America Great Again” slogan as “MFGA! Or MSGA … depends on what side of the sign you’re on lol”

In another thread within the “Sturbridge MA Community” page, Tony Koziol referenced another — though less well-known section of town — by teasing, “And don’t get me started about ‘Snellville!’” Later in that same thread, Amy Butler said she and a friend would counteract the sign by picketing it with misspelled signage reading “Fishdale First.”

In yet another “Sturbridge MA Community” thread about the sign, members continued to poke fun at the message. Carly Bean asserted “Fiskdale for life!” while Sean O’Donnell said “Oh, they just think they are so much better because they have the nicer post office.” Kristen Bell summed it up by referring to the local reaction as “The sign wars of 2018.”

Asked by The Citizen Chronicle why someone may have taken the time to gather the material, design the sign, and then head out to affix it to the utility pole, Bradley’s best guess was a provincial action by a resident of the Fiskdale village.

“I think it is someone from Fiskdale not liking the Sturbridge name encroaching the two locales,” she said.

Bradley noted she does not personally feel a distinction between the village and the town as a whole. “I lived in Fiskdale and truly felt part of Sturbridge, nothing else.”


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