Only in Vermont would there be something known as the Valentine Phantom. Vermont is a state positively doused in good vibes—recycling and composting before it was trendy; supporting its flotillas of Co-ops; housing the factory headquarters of the other happiest place on earth: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. And in 2018 crops of those “good vibes” became officially legal, so really, aside from winter lasting 8 months out of the year, why live anyplace else? Vermont has all of this and the Valentine Phantom, too.
The first city in New England visited by the Valentine Phantom was Portland Maine, another bastion of funk and grooviness, in 1976. On February 14, Portlanders awoke to a day filled with chocolate, edible marvels of the boxed and wearable variety, packed restaurants, and empty florist shops to also discover white sheets of paper printed with big red hearts tacked to windows and storefronts all over downtown Portland. It was a kind of vandalism of the merriest, sweetest variety.
Montpelier got in on the act with a Valentine Phantom of their own in 2002. Someone or someones papered the windows of storefronts in the small crosshatch of main streets downtown with the same pieces of 8 ½ x 11 white paper imprinted with blazing red hearts. Since then, the Vday paper creep has migrated across the entire area of Vermont’s capital city, a compact grid of streets lined with beautiful nineteenth-century style brick buildings housing all types of retail spaces with the capitol building sitting a few short blocks from the town’s hub. In the years that the Valentine Phantom has been operating within city lines, the tide of paper hearts has extended to nearly every building including all the municipal buildings near the capitol and many of the side and secondary streets of downtown. And lest you think the Phantom is stingy with her papering, think again. Some windows have twenty paper hearts plastered across their surface, others a half dozen or maybe the one pressed against a front porch column like a moony suitor pining for his guy or gal.
I was lucky enough to be visiting friends in Montpelier a couple of days after Valentine’s and saw the handy work of the Phantom for myself–impressive in its scope and whimsy.
Walking around town, taking it all in and snapping photos (how many pictures of the same heart-smeared café window does one truly need? Many. A lot.), I briefly wondered what it would be like for the Phantom to pay a visit to Boston. I pictured paper hearts fluttering on the tall, green walls outside of Fenway Park and crawling up the massive, grey pillars of the entrance to Quincy Market in Faneuil Hall. How charming! And then just as quickly, I imagined a liquored up pack of dudes tumbling out of one of the nearby bars, maybe one of them wearing a belt with a glittery cupid’s arrow pointed south, ripping down the pieces of paper and pretending to stuff them in their shirts because ha-ha boobs! and also because Bostonians can’t have nice things. Stay north, gentle Phantom.
My friends had told me about the Phantom in the same matter-of-fact way you explain to a child that the stove is hot and flowers need water to grow. In other words, there was no attempt to explain or theorize. It’s a group of high schoolers and their parents! It’s a couple of women that started it as a joke and can’t back out now. It’s an eccentric billionaire who has left money in his estate to keep the tradition going. Cracking the mystery isn’t the point.
The Valentine Phantom is a lot like Charlie Brown’s mythical Great Pumpkin. It’s as much as an idea as it is a happening. The Phantom is a courier, hauling a dispatch from our better selves to one another broadcast from every window and front stoop. Love. Give it. Share it. Express it today and every day. Tack your paper heart next to someone else’s and see what amazing things happen. Spread it far and wide and with great glee. Love. February 14 comes and goes. The paper hearts get taken down and recycled. The clear window panes return. But the Phantom of love remains.