BY HANNAH ROACH '17
Mount Tom, just under 20 minutes from Mount Holyoke College, rises above the entire Pioneer Valley. On a clear day like Friday, Nov. 11, visitors can see all the way to Hartford, Connecticut.
The morning of Nov. 11, several Pioneer Valley residents hiked to the summit of the mountain to wash away the hateful graffiti written there in the days before the election. The first photos of the graffiti were uploaded to the Hampshire Gazette on Sunday Nov. 6.
On Friday, many of the most hateful remarks were washed away by volunteers. Andrew Goulet, Tom Peake and Michael Poole were three of the volunteers at the peak Friday morning. They spoke with Mount Holyoke News while washing away graffiti stating “Kill Jews,” explaining their process.
The word ‘Kill’ was left exposed in the white paint, while another visitor had tried to obscure ‘Jews’ underneath a neon green shade of paint. The white underneath was barely visible.
“Do you think if you got the green paint off that, what’s under it would pop up or do you think taking the green paint off would take the white paint under it off?” Peake asked Goulet while scrubbing down the letter ‘K’ with a brush and spring water. They hadn’t yet gotten to the “Trump 2016” that had been painted in the same color as “KKK” and “Kill Jews.”
Goulet said, “We’re working on muscle power alone. Hitting the spots where it’s the most obvious is where our priority is.”
In an interview with MassLive, Goulet said, “It’s a matter of triage. Today, we could either get out here and do something or sit back and complain.”
The graffiti that was washed away early on contained more violent remarks about Jewish individuals and Black Americans. Earlier that morning, Poole had worked on “Gas the Jews.” The words “Kill All N------” had been erased quickly after their discovery. Many swastikas had been transformed into boxes or painted over, but there was still much more work to be done.
The mountain had also been vandalized in previous months, according to the Hampshire Gazette. This time proved to be more extensive and more hateful than previous instances. Nearly every corner of the mountain cliffs was covered with hateful words. “Hitler” was spray-painted on almost every surface, painted in the same color as the countless swastikas along the edge.
During his interview, Peake planned what his next move would be: “I think I might jump back on that ‘God Hates…’ even though we’ve kind of obscured what it is.” The word Peake avoided was an anti-gay slur which had been edited, to read “God Hates Fla,” Peake joked: “God hates Florida.”
Throughout the morning, people arrived with spring water, gallons of iodine and hand-held power washers. Most visitors hiked the incline up with these materials. When asked about the hike, Peake said, “It sucked.”
Peake had hiked up with two gallons of water, but said that the experience was worth it. “For people who live full time in the Valley, if you go on Facebook about a quarter of [people’s] profile pictures [are of] them standing on this mountain,” he said, while looking out across the Valley, gesturing at the vast amount of land below his feet.
“You can see so much from here,” Peake continued. “It’s such an important part of the Pioneer Valley and I just don’t like it being tagged by basically a bunch of losers who want to write mean things on rocks and scare people.”
Peake wasn’t alone; many members of the Valley community spent their Veteran’s Day on top of the mountain, scrubbing hateful words off of the rocks. This upcoming week, members of an interfaith group are planning another journey to the summit. Organized by Bishop Doug Fisher, a group of religious leaders and members of religious communities will bless the mountain together this Saturday at noon.
According to MassLive, a representative of theEpiscopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts said, “Like the volunteers who wiped the words away with solvents this past weekend, we will gather to cleanse the mountain with prayer.”
For many residents of the Valley, Mount Tom serves as a beautiful place for hiking and photographs, as well as being aplace of cultural significance. Peake, Poole and Goulet explained that local legend says that Mount Tom is the inspiration for Mount Crumpit, where the Grinch resides in Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Easthampton has a long tradition of celebrating its connection to the Grinch: Many residents gathered to sing together in the town square on Christmas of 2013, according to MassLive. Dr. Seuss, or Theodore Geisel, grew up in Springfield and reportedly used Easthampton as the inspiration for Whoville and Mount Tom as Mount Crumpit.
At the top of the mountain, arrows point toward the cliffs, reading “Mount Crumpit” and another points its visitors back to “Whoville.”
The view is an incredible sight to many and an iconic part of the Pioneer Valley. After considering how someone was able to write such things despite the beautiful view and community significance, Goulet sarcastically joked, “My passions are hiking, backpacking and being racist.” Peake laughed, saying, “I really like hiking and spreading fear.” Goulet, still scrubbing, added, “Bird watching and David Duke.” Despite the serious subject matter, spirits were light atop the mountain. Families with children continued to arrive, working through the morning to wash away the hateful words.
The members cleaning kept speaking about Whoville — about overcoming hate with acts of kindness. Some of the hate had been painted over with “Black Lives Matter,” “Queer Pride” and the Transgender Flag. “A handful of punks came up here and made it look ugly, and made our town look ugly. We want to tell the world that this is not who we are,” Peake said in an interview with MassLive.
Peake also emphasized the story of the Grinch. He asserted that these acts were not representative of his town and said that their perpetrators were Grinch-like — hiding in the mountain with hearts three sizes too small.
As he continued to clean, he said that he hoped for their hearts to grow.