In Episode 287 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger spend Valentine’s Day driving along Route 103 in Newbury, New Hampshire, to see some graffiti that’s endured for half a century. Though the state once painted over it in the 1990s due to a complaint, Newbury responded with a petition to protect this enduring but odd message of affection. The painted rock reads: Chicken Farmer I Still Love You. Who first put it there and why?
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JEFF: Happy Valentine’s Day, Ray!
RAY: Happy Valentine’s Day to you too, Jeff!
JEFF: So we’re heading north on Route 103 in New Hampshire.
RAY: Yup. We’re currently in the town of Newbury, which is where you’ll find Mt. Sunapee.
JEFF: That’s right! I’ve skied that mountain before.
RAY: Are we up here to go skiing?
JEFF: No. What we’re looking for is a rock on the side of the road.
RAY: Okayyyy… New Hampshire IS the granite state. There’s plenty of rocks on the side of the road. And really everywhere in New Hampshire.
JEFF: I get that, but the rock we’re looking for is special. It’s got some graffiti on it that’s been there for decades and it’s tough to miss. Okay, we just passed Rainbow Garage… so our rock should be coming up on our right. (PAUSE) I think that’s it.
RAY: Okay… there’s a bolder maybe 10 or 15 feet from the edge of the road. It’s about three or four feet tall, the flat face of the boulder is painted maroon, and in white letters it says: Chicken Farmer I Still Love You.
JEFF: Hello, I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 287 – a Valentine’s Day Special edition of the New England Legends podcast.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We can’t do it without your help. So please reach out to us anytime through our Web site with your own local tales of Roadside oddities, haunts, aliens, monsters, or other weird history.
JEFF: Also, if you know a local, independent radio station that’s looking for unique content, please reach out to them and invite them to join a growing list of radio stations who broadcast the New England Legends podcast! The bigger our community, the more strange stories we can collect.
RAY: Before we explore how this odd message of love for a chicken farmer got here on the side of Route 103 in New Hampshire, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
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RAY: Okay, Jeff. Chicken Farmer I still love you?
JEFF: Yup, that’s what this rock says.
RAY: When you said graffiti I was picturing some spray-painted tag on some rock. But this is real paint. Like… with a bucket and brush.
JEFF: Yes it is.
RAY: Not only that, you can tell this isn’t the original. You can see from the edges someone is maintaining this.
JEFF: That’s true too. It’s been here for decades.
RAY: So we’re not talking about some teenagers sneaking out here and spray-painting something in under a minute or two late at night.
RAY: I mean, someone is out here applying coats of paint, letting it dry, and coming back to finish it.
JEFF: All true. This is one strange roadside oddity for sure. And there’s even a town decree protecting this graffiti. And though few agree on why the message was first painted here, most agree that it first showed up in the 1970s.
RAY: So this has been here almost half a century at this point.
JEFF: Yes, I believe your math is correct.
RAY: Some of the stories we heard around town is there once was a chicken farmer who went off to war, and his love painted that sign for him. Another version is there were some star-crossed lovers who couldn’t be together. The girl came from a wealthy family, the boy was a humble chicken farmer, her parents forbid their relationship, so she painted this sign for him.
JEFF: You’ve heard of an urban legend?
RAY: Of course!
JEFF: I think we can call this one a rural legend. Countless cars and trucks have passed by this rock over the last 50 years. So many people have seen this message. This rock even made it into one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books!
RAY: To find out how this message got here, let’s head back to 1973 and find out what happened.
RAY: It’s late April of 1973. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn is the number one song. Disco music is still heating up across the country, and Richard Nixon is in the White House. Life here in Newbury is quiet in the spring. People have been coming to ski at the Mt. Sunapee resort since 1948, and of course Lake Sunapee draws crowds in the summer. But in the spring, it’s pretty much all locals.
JEFF: Living right across the street from where we’re standing here on Route 103 is the home of Rule family. It’s not a large home, but there’s plenty of room in their yard for planting a vegetable garden, and for…
JEFF: Raising chickens.
RAY: It’s just a few chickens for fresh eggs, but there they are strutting around the fenced in back-yard. The Rule family have kept chickens for years.
JEFF: Living in the house is local high school senior named Gretchen Rule. Like a lot of high school seniors, the whole world is ahead of her!
RAY: Being a senior is an exciting time for sure. There’s proms to think about. College. Jobs. So many possibilities.
JEFF: But then one day, Gretchen wakes up…
JEFF: And as she leaves her house to go to school, a painted message on the face of a rock across the street from her house catches her attention.
RAY: Look at that! The painted message reads: Chicken Farmer I love you.
JEFF: At first, Gretchen doesn’t know what to make of the message. But soon she figures out that someone has a crush on her.
RAY: And there’s that message staring at Gretchen every day that she pulls out of her driveway. Chicken Farmer I love you.
JEFF: Chicken Farmer I love you. Odd. But kinda sweet. Gretchen has some ideas as to who her secret admirer may be, but beyond this bold, painted gesture, this Newbury Romeo keeps his mouth shut. The message painted on the flat face of that rock across the street from Gretchen’s house endures the seasons and the years. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: Wait. What? That’s it? We didn’t spend much time back in 1973.
JEFF: No, we didn’t. But, there’s plenty more to this high school crush story.
RAY: Got it. I guess we all know how high school crushes go. At the time you feel like your world will end if the object of your desire doesn’t love you back. But time passes, you meet new people, and those crushes can feel kind of silly in hindsight.
JEFF: But paint on a rock sticks around even long after the crush fades. Right? RIGHT!?
RAY: Sure. Usually. But then something happened to this painted sign in the early 1990s. After 20 years, the paint had faded quite a bit. But then one day someone painted over the sign. And even made a one word updated. One day passers-by noticed a fresh coat of paint that read: Chicken Farmer I Still Love you.
JEFF: Woah. Has this high school crush carried the torch for 20 years?
RAY: We’re not sure, but the updated message got locals buzzing about that very idea.
JEFF: This graffiti was something adored by many locals… but not all of them.
RAY: No, not all. In April of 1997, one uppity, new-to-the-area local made some complaints to the state of New Hampshire about this graffiti-covered rock. The state responded and painted over the message with a reddish color that was sort of close to the color of the rock. And suddenly the message was gone for the first time in almost 25 years.
JEFF: That’s when the people of Newbury stepped up and said, Wait a minute! NOBODY paints over graffiti in our town without our okay. It was down only a few days before someone repainted the message: Chicken Farmer I still love you back on the rock.
RAY: But repainting wasn’t enough. So the people of Newbury signed a petition that said the chicken farmer sign should be left alone forever. The petition was submitted to the state of New Hampshire, and the state agreed to leave it alone.
JEFF: But paint fades—especially in New Hampshire winters. And underbrush grows.
RAY: Yet someone took care of this rock. When underbrush and trees continued to grow around it, someone would cut them back. When the paint faded, someone would come repaint it. After 50 years it’s safe to say that this rock is now a town landmark. But the question remains: who painted the original?
JEFF: This rock seems to make the news every few years. Yankee Magazine once did a feature story on it. Newspapers have covered it. New Hampshire Public Radio did a great story on it back in 2017. Gretchen Rule Hamel has commented in these various articles and stories that she has an idea who her admirer was, but didn’t want to say. The New Hampshire Public Radio piece even went on to say that they were able to track down someone who said they knew for sure, but they kept the name private.
RAY: Obviously SOMEONE painted the original.
RAY: And that’s part of the charm of a legend. If we knew the whole story and everything about it, it would never match our sweet imaginations. Because it’s vague, we get to think of all the backstories there could be behind a simple message of Love… on the rocks.
JEFF: Happy Valentine’s Day no matter how you do or don’t celebrate this day. And that brings us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into the story and sometimes drive off course.
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Until next time remember… Chicken farmer I still love you.