My first journalism job in New Hampshire (about a quarter century ago) was as editor of a little weekly paper called The Bow Times. I had become a familiar sight at the town hall, schools and recreation center of Bow, but our expansion into neighboring towns like Dunbarton was a reminder that not everyone wanted a reporter snooping around. At first, when I needed copies of minutes from the planning board or other official documents, the town clerk would let me take all the notes I wanted as long as the papers never left her sight. Oh, and I could make duplicates on the town’s ancient copy machine for $1 a page.
Eventually, even Dunbarton got used to having me hanging around town offices for hearings on special exceptions and variances, but I never forgot that bumper sticker.
While doing a little supporting research for this issue’s feature on town meeting (and other “Relevant Relics”), I had the pleasure of once again exploring the town halls of both Bow and Dunbarton. The buildings haven’t changed much. There’s some fresh paint and the office equipment is newer. And now, if someone wanted to charge me to copy documents, I could just pop out my iPhone and record as many as I wanted.
My real goal at the Dunbarton office was to take a picture of a photograph that had been hanging on the wall awhile even when I first saw it. It was a scene from the last town meeting held in their classic old community building before it was determined to be unsafe for crowds and big events were relocated to the school auditorium. The photo was still there, curling a bit at the corners in spite of someone’s attempt to tack it back with loops of clear tape. It was such an iconic image of town meeting that I thought I might be able to use it in our story, but the photographer isn’t credited, nor the publication that commissioned it, so there was no way to request permission. (I’ll run a low-res image online with this essay at www.nhmagazine.com/opinionhumor in case anyone recognizes it and can fill in those blanks.)
The current town office staff couldn’t have been friendlier or more helpful. They even remembered The Bow Times fondly. While there I learned that Dunbarton, like a curiously large number of small NH towns, is about to turn 250 years old. We chatted excitedly about the lively doings that were in the works for the celebrations next year.
When I told the town administrator about my memory of those “Keep Dunbarton a Secret” bumper stickers, her eyes lit up. “We should have some of those made for the celebration,” she said, and I took comfort knowing that some things never change.