Joseph A. Citro,
Cursed in New England:
Stories of Damned Yankees

(Globe Pequot, 2004)

It's not polite to curse.

Joseph Citro knows better than most, particularly when it comes to cursing in New England. In his new book, Cursed in New England: Stories of Damned Yankees, he thoroughly explores the history and folklore of death and misfortune brought about through the power of words.

Cursing is not my area of expertise. (My wife will tell you, I'm pretty darn soft-spoken when it comes to harsh language.) But Citro wrote Passing Strange, the best book on ghost stories I've yet to read, so Damned Yankees was impossible to pass up.

Citro doesn't disappoint. The book is fascinating, educational, entertaining and hard to put down. The curses that unfold in these pages stretch from the earliest days of New England colonialism through the modern age of politics.

Of course, there must be an entry from the days of Salem's witch hysteria, and Citro supplies the eerie tale of Giles Corey, an elderly man pressed to death for refusing to consent to trial, and whose dying curse plagued generations of Salem sheriffs. In a land where Native Americans paid a dear price to Europe's colonial spirit, you'll find numerous Indian curses such as the one that ravaged the town of Burton and another that made a death-trap of the Saco River.

The horrifying fate of Rogers' Rangers follows hard on the heels of plunder and slaughter. The entire population of Dudleytown felt the power of a curse. A luxury steamer on Lake Champlain burned to the water after being cursed by a displaced passenger. The ancient tree of Tarkiln demanded its due respect. And an entire island in Boston Harbor disappeared after a man executed there vowed it would be so.

Citro even takes on the mighty Kennedy clan, revealing the tradition of bad luck that has followed family members through several generations and has repeatedly dashed their hopes for power. Although reluctant to veer into a sensational "tabloid" style of writing, Citro rightly explains that the greatest New England curse of the 20th century can hardly be ignored.

Citro has a pleasant way of telling tales; this is the sort of fellow you want sitting in the best chair at a fireside gathering, regaling the party with stories. He lays down the stories in an engaging narrative, then follows it up with citations from available research and his own experiences. The personal touch is a delightful extra step that is lacking from many books in this genre. From cursed springs to damned village, he's been there, and he records his impressions of the experience.

When his research debunks a legend, he provides the explanation. In one case, for instance, the well-known story of a self-inflicted curse has its roots in a work of early fiction that spread and was accepted as truth.

A quick look online shows that Citro has produced a respectable body of work on the subject of supernatural lore in New England. While one book might have been a fluke, two is solid evidence that Citro is a master of his craft. I look forward to exploring New England further with him. No one else, in my experience to date, does it better.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 13 August 2005

[ visit Joseph A. Citro's website ]

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