Can you top the ‘Bristol Stomp’ — without risking amputation?

The town of Bristol, Vermont is about to turn 250, and as part of its celebration next month, it is looking for a song: A song that celebrates the town’s history and what the village has meant to its residents since June 26, 1762, when the hamlet was first chartered.

Its original name? Pocock, after the British admiral, George Pocock. And it might have remained Pocock to this very day, except for the tiny detail that the colonials had a dust-up with the Brits between 1775 and 1783, and the name was changed to Bristol in 1789.

I am telling you this because Bristol is looking for an original song as part of its quarter-millennium festivities, and while you can use the name Pocock in your lyrics, you don’t have to. My sense is that “Pocock” would have given even Paul McCartney and Carole King fits. Very likely, someone is going to parody the 1961 Dovells hit, the “Bristol Stomp.” Just for the record, that tune probably would not have reached the number two spot on the Billboard chart if the refrain had begun, “The kids in Pocock are sharp as a pistol.”

Bristol resident Carol Wells is a part of the village’s 250th Anniversary Committee, and I asked her why a town of roughly 3,800 people needed an official song.

“A song is something you don’t realize you don’t have until you need one,” she told me, and then added she could envision it being sung before such important Bristol town rituals as the annual Fourth of July Outhouse Races down Main Street. Appropriately, the winning song will be performed live for the first time on June 16 at “Pocock Rocks,” Bristol’s annual music festival and street fair.

The judges include, among others, the Mount Abraham Union High School vocal director, Megan LaRose. She told me that songwriters are asked to have a connection to Bristol, and she hopes that some of the entrants explore either the town’s physical setting or its history. “We used to have a bowling alley and a movie theater. We used to have a coffin factory,” she said. “I hope people pull those sorts of things in.”

Me, too. And the word “Pocock.”

If you want a refresher on Bristol’s history – and why geography matters to the Addison County village – consider John Elder’s beautiful exploration of the area (and Robert Frost), “Reading the Mountains of Home.”

If you want a peek at pre-Civil War Bristol, consider “The Early History of Bristol, Vermont – Formerly Known as Pocock,” by Harvey Munsill. Among the tidbits in Munsill’s book from the mid-nineteenth century? John F. Blass and William Haskins nearly blew themselves up while “engaged in loading a Cannon” in an artillery exercise in 1858. (Haskins had both arms amputated below the elbow.) Dan Turrell had a tree fall on him while chopping it down in 1806. (Turrell had his leg amputated.) Henry Sumner was bitten by a rattlesnake – date unspecified. (Sumner had nothing amputated.) In hindsight, one has to wonder why in the world the coffin factory closed.

Munsill’s book also has nine pages of different properties being “burnt.” And the topography? According to Munsill, there are “smooth naked rocks . . . piled promiscuously.”

The truth is, I love Bristol, even if its rocks are naked and promiscuous. (Maybe, in fact, that’s precisely why I love it.) It has a lot my village, Lincoln, lacks. Exhibit A? A gym. Exhibit B? A creemee stand. Exhibit C? A grocery store and a pharmacy. And that’s just the town. The surrounding countryside does Vermont proud, and Bristol has certainly earned the right to boast, “Gateway to the Green Mountains.”

And so I can’t wait to hear the winning song. I just hope it has the word “Pocock” in it.

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The deadline for entering is June 1. The winner will be decided that night and announced the next day. To enter, visit .

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on May 6, 2012. Chris’s new novel, The Sandcastle Girls, arrives on July 17. You can read about it here.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

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