Podcast 347 – Ripton: Massachusetts’ Most Mysterious Town

In 1984, the mysterious town of Ripton, Massachusetts, made the news for an odd state budget request. Once the U.S. Air Force got involved things got weird…

In Episode 347 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the history and mysteries of the Western Massachusetts town of Ripton. Founded in 1767, Ripton made waves back in the mid-1980s when they requested some additional funds from the state budget. Then the U.S. Air Force explored Ripton as a potential site for a new early-warning radar system, and that’s when Ripton made the news for one of the greatest pranks ever pulled in the history of Massachusetts.

Read the episode transcript.


Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Theme Music by: John Judd

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Town of Ripton, Massachusetts letterhead

Town of Ripton, Massachusetts letterhead

*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.

RAY: Jeff, it’s a wicked pissah being way out here in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts!
JEFF: Ohhh Ray. You can’t say wicked pissah, out here.
RAY: Why not?
JEFF: You may notice if you talk to… I don’t know… ANYONE around here that there is NO Boston accent.
RAY: Huh… you’re right. I guess I never thought about it much.
JEFF: Once you get west of the I-495 loop, the Boston accent drops off considerably, and out in Western Mass, they don’t use it at all, and you may do well to hold it back so we can blend in.
RAY: Why do you think the accent drops off so much out here?
JEFF: I think part of it is a protest. People around here don’t feel as connected to Boston. All of the politicians live and work in Boston and don’t seem to pay much attention to the western part of the state. Folks around here take that personally.
RAY: So what are we looking for besides a lack of a Boston accent.
JEFF: Ray, we’ve come to Western Massachusetts to search for a small town… arguably the Commonwealth’s most mysterious town. A town tough to find and elusive, but one that’s received a lot of state funding over the years and a place that caught the attention of the Air Force at one point. We’re going to explore the mysterious town of Ripton, Massachusetts.
RAY: I’m Ray Auger.
JEFF: And I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to Episode 347 of the New England Legends podcast. Thank you for joining us on our mission to explore every legend in New England one story at a time. Did you know most of our story leads come from you? This one did! Thank you to Tony Dunne – the fearless producer, director, and editor of the New England Legends television series for sending this one in. You can check out our latest episode of the television series right now on Amazon Prime. If you’ve got a story you think we should check out, please reach out to us anytime through our Web site.
RAY: We’ll explore the mysterious town of Ripton, Massachusetts, right after this quick word from our sponsor.
RAY: Okay, I admit it, I’ve never heard of Ripton.
JEFF: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has 292 towns and 59 cities located in 14 counties. I can’t fault you for not knowing all of them.
RAY: Which is saying a lot because we’ve explored stories in dozens of Massachusetts towns!
JEFF: We have. I’m sure not even our elected officials know them all! Between my story tours and research, there aren’t too many towns in Massachusetts I haven’t at least passed through. But this will be my first visit to Ripton.
RAY: We’re in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. This is the western-most county in the state and runs the entire length from the northern border it shares with Vermont, to the southern border it shares with Connecticut. The Berkshire mountains are out here, the music venue Tanglewood is pretty famous. That’s in Stockbridge. It’s been the summer home of the Boston Pops since 1937. And in the Autumn, everything out here is picture-perfect New England.
JEFF: All true. However, some of these towns are pretty small with not a lot of population. Still, they need funds from Beacon Hill to upkeep roads and infrastructure just like everyone else.
RAY: According to some old letterhead, the Town of Ripton, Massachusetts, was established in 1767. It’s in Berkshire County, and though no famous or even infamous people ever hailed from Ripton, this place is small-town America that deserves as much of our tax dollars as any other town its size.
JEFF: That is 100% true. It was back in mid-80s that Ripton began to make waves. So let’s head back to 1984 and visit Ripton.
RAY: It’s July of 1984 here in Ripton, Massachusetts. Ronald Reagan is in the White House, Michael Dukakis is the Governor of Massachusetts, and “When Doves Cry” by Prince is the number one song on the radio. America is enjoying some good times in economics, fashion, and music.
JEFF: But in Ripton, Massachusetts, there’s a problem.
RAY: What’s the problem?
JEFF: Locals are upset that hunters from the Boston area are making a mess of their environment. Plus, there’s an extreme lack of stocked trout in the town’s river and pond. So after their annual town meeting—always held on June 31st – they file forms on town letterhead with legislators in Boston. They’re seeking $50,000 for stocking trout and fixing up the shores of Lazy River in town, plus $10,000 for weed control and cleanup at Darey’s Pond.
RAY: Those numbers seem reasonable enough.
JEFF: The forms are submitted to the folks on Beacon Hill in Boston.
JEFF: And the annual budget is passed. Go ahead and read these two lines from the 1984 state budget, Ray.
RAY: Okay, this is one long paragraph outlining all kinds of line items for various towns. But this first part says quote, “A sum not exceeding fifty thousand dollars shall be used for riprap and general stream maintenance of the Lazy River in Ripton…”
JEFF: Riprap means to fortify the banks of the river with stones.
RAY: The second part reads, quote “an amount not exceeding ten thousand dollars shall be used for weed control and cleanup at Darey’s Pond in the town of Ripton.”
JEFF: Right.
RAY: Well, there you go. The town got what it asked for from the state’s annual budget. And Governor Michael Dukakis signed off.
JEFF: It’s now the spring of 1985, and the United States Air Force is looking for a location to construct some early-warning communication towers in Berkshire County. The town of Hawley, Massachusetts – located about 15 miles west of Greenfield, looks like the perfect location for these towers.
RAY: The only problem is the people of Hawley don’t want it. The towers will mess up their beautiful skyline. The project is NOT welcomed by the locals, so they raise a fuss.
JEFF: That’s when the First Selectmen of Ripton step in and offer up their town.
RAY: Ripton isn’t a bad choice at all. In a letter to the Air Force, the town managers explain their topography and location is pretty similar to the town of Hawley. So the Air Force sends some scouts out to check it out.
RAY: The Air Force personnel drive through Berkshire County looking for Ripton… there’s only one problem.
JEFF: What’s that?
RAY: They can’t seem to find it.
JEFF: Really? How embarrassing! Come onnnnn Air Force… do better!
RAY: Right?!
JEFF: Sooooo… it turns out there’s a good reason the Air Force couldn’t find the town of Ripton.
RAY: Why’s that?
JEFF: Because the town of Ripton doesn’t exist.
RAY: What?!
JEFF: It never existed! The whole town was made up as a prank.
RAY: A prank?!
JEFF: A prank to prove to the legislators in Boston that they don’t pay any attention to Western Massachusetts. That the bureaucracy is so bad that they didn’t even notice the town wasn’t real.
RAY: So what happened to the $60,000 allocated for Ripton?
JEFF: It never arrived because the Massachusetts Department of Revenue couldn’t find Ripton either. So the money sat in an escrow account until the jig was up and it went back into state funds. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: Okay, this is a lot of trouble for a prank.
JEFF: The prank was the brainchild of George Darey…
RAY: I bet that’s where Darey Pond came from…
JEFF: Exactly. George Darey was the town selectman in Lenox, Mass. And the chair of the state’s Fisheries and Wildlife Borad. He teamed up with some conservationist friends including Berkshire Natural Resources Council cofounder George Wislocki and Lenox Land Trust cofounder Sally Bell. It was Bell who came up with the name Ripton.
RAY: And there’s no body of water in Massachusetts called Lazy River, either.
JEFF: There is not.
RAY: Annnd it’s only occurring to me now that Ripton’s annual town meeting was held each June 31st.
JEFF: Right.
RAY: There is no June 31st. June only has 30 days.
JEFF: Right again.
RAY: So the signs were there that this was a prank.
JEFF: The signs were everywhere. Which was part of the point.
RAY: This is a great prank. I’m guessing once it was found out, lawmakers in Massachusetts closed the loophole there and now make sure no one tries to slip through an imaginary town.
JEFF: That’s the funny thing. In 1991, Ripton made another appearance when a proposal was launched to place a landfill along the Appalachian Trail in Hinsdale, Massachusetts. When the people of Hinsdale raised a stink, a letter arrived from Ripton town officials offering to host the landfill.
RAY: It seems like part of the prank is centered on environmental issues.
JEFF: Yes, everyone involved cares a lot about the environment, so no surprise there. Also, in 1992, Ripton made one last wave on Beacon Hill when the Ripton Town Officials – “Town Officials” in air quotes there – asked for $400,000 dollars to establish five positions to investigate the quote “predacious activities of the endangered Howame analyst.”
RAY: We’re guessing Howame means House Ways and Means. Tell me they got the $400,000 through.
JEFF: It made it to the preliminary budget, but then they were found out.
RAY: They didn’t even try to change the name from Ripton. You’d think lawmakers would learn.
JEFF: They don’t learn. They never do. And that’s part of the point. I bet if today Ripton issued another request for budget funds that request would make it further than you might think. All of these small towns in Western, Massachusetts—shoot even central Massachusetts, often feel forgotten by lawmakers. Things have improved, but the bitterness is still there. You can’t blame them for pulling a prank on occasion.
RAY: Sometimes a good prank forces changes. If politicians can’t get it done sometimes you gotta send in the clowns.
JEFF: When in doubt always send in the clowns! And that brings us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
RAY: After the Legend is brought to you by our Patreon Patrons! Our patrons help fund everything we do from the podcast, our Web site, our travel, hosting, events, marketing, and everything else it takes to bring you two stories each week. We can’t do what we do without them and the only thing missing is you. It’s just $3 bucks per month and for that you get early ad-free access to new episodes plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. To sign up, please join us at patreon.com/newenglandlegends
To see some pictures of the Ripton letterhead, click on the link in our episode description or go to our Web site and click on episode 347.

Could we jump to Texas for a minute? On April 1st, 1971, Texas State Representative Tom Moore proposed the following Resolution. Ray, can you read part of it.

The Honorable Albert De Salvo has unselfishly served his country, his state, and his community. His sincerity diligence and cooperation has earned him the warm admiration and affection of his fellow practitioners AND Widely esteemed for his knowledge and unique skill, his outstanding service to the public has won him recognition as a model of active citizenship, a champion of worthwhile causes, and an acknowledged leader in his singular field. AND He has been officially recognized by the State of Massachusetts for his noted activities and unconventional techniques involving population control and applied psychology.

So for those who forgot, Albert De Salvo was the Boston Strangler. Tom Moore was making a point that no legislature reads or researches anything. It passed unanimously and that’s when Moore made is April Fool’s Prank and point. No one reds this stuff. And we wonder why governments are such a mess.

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