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Dixville Notch 2004: A Politically Irrelevant Ghost Story

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The best description I could give is that I have never seen anyplace that resembles Kubrick's The Shining quite so well. The first indication that we were entering a haunted place was my GPS system going bust. One minute we were on a marked highway, the next we were on logging roads that Volvo's navigational squad had not taken into account. The soothing female voice from the dashboard reminded us, again and again, "please return to the indicated route." But the indicated route would have us plow through what appeared to be forest, though it was quite hard to tell through the heavy snowfall.

My traveling companion was Kathy Kerry, Cam Kerry's wife, John Kerry's sister-in-law. I was supposed to be dropping her off with Cam, but had instead driven us into the depths of a haunted forest probably occupied by escaped mental patients with chainsaws and inhuman strength. We were terribly lost.

"Are you sure this is the right way?" She asked me.

"I'm pretty sure it's just around the corner," I said.

I thought I heard scratching - or maybe the chains of the damned - on the window. I pushed our speed up to fifteen miles per hour: faster, I figured, than ghosts could move. I don't believe in hauntings or witchcraft or voodoo, but I do believe in hedging my bets.

"What time is it?" Kathy asked. She sounded nervous. Maybe it was just that we were driving with a deadline or maybe it was that I was perspiring and glancing in the rearview mirrors. Either way I wanted to be reassuring.

"Oh 11:30 or so." Thirty minutes until the witching hour. "Half an hour until the vote," I said.

Then we turned a corner and the mansion itself stared us down. A terrible place where dark wizards surely dwelled. It was enormous. A colossal white construct rising up out of a frozen lake or maybe the entrance to Hades. My memory is tainted by emotion on this point. "Dixville Notch," they called it.

A technicality in the New Hampshire election law allows a precinct to close it's polls if every voter in that precinct has voted. Thus, at midnight on primary day, the entire town of Dixville Notch gathers in the large, likely-haunted hotel and the polls both open and close just after midnight. In one of the many stupefying media traditions of the presidential season, the results of Dixeville Notch's primary are broadcast around the state and country. This is particularly baffling in years, like 2004, where only the Democratic primary is competitive since Dixeville notch doesn't really have any Democrats.

I admit that I came to Dixville notch in the dead of night and left before morning. And it was four years ago. That's plenty of time for my memory to play tricks on me. There's probably more to the place than one glowering hotel with, as I recall, dragons circling its two tall spires. Maybe there's also a hardware store or an asylum or an Indian burial ground or something. On the dark and stormy night in question, though, it was the only structure in sight.

We parked the car and hurried toward the entrance of the hotel past the eerie silhouettes of satellite trucks and falling snow on either side of the road.

Inside, we quickly found the fifty or so people who had gathered with their cameras to observe the arcane ritual known as the Dixville notch primary. Cam Kerry hurried our way, "I think I've got two of them persuaded," he said.

There was a stirring up ahead and we saw the voters enter the voting room. Moments later, we saw them leave. The town has a room full of voting booths and - that year - had only 26 voters.

A man came out and stood on a podium to announce the election results and the camera crews descended upon him like image-hungry harpies.

"Clark 8, Kerry 3, Edwards 2, and Dean and Lieberman 1," he said. A second place finish! We were done and could escape.

Cam turned to me. "We have a couch in our room," he said. They were staying overnight. A fool's errand in a place like this. "If you want, you can crash there."

I was tired and it was a four-hour drive, but if ever a hotel had poltergeists, this was it. "I actually have some work tomorrow morning," I lied. "I'll hit the road tonight."

Kathy smiled. Cam said "I'm sure the campaign can use you better if you are well-rested. You don't have to work so hard."

I thought about his offer for just a moment. The expression, 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy' came to mind. "No," I thought, "it is definitely time to leave."