Dead Heads | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
Pin It

Dead Heads 

Local Matters

Halloween is just around the corner. So it makes sense that Rob Coates would put up a Day of the Dead shrine in his Mexican-imports store, Sur al Norte, in Montpelier. For the uninitiated, Dia de los Muertos is a venerable tradition - observed on November 1 and 2 - in which Mexican families honor their dearly departed. Of course, the pagan-meets-Christian holiday also celebrates life with sumptuous feasts, colorful decorations and general merriment. And it has spawned a folk-art industry of little clay skeletons in various outfits and scenarios.

Rather than display an imported shrine, Coates offered a couple of local schoolteachers a unique cultural-studies opportunity: to let their students create shrine objects and install them in his store. But first, the students had to dedicate them to someone. "I said they and the kids could pick whoever, real or mythical," says Coates. "Coincidentally, they both picked Steve Irwin."

The host of Animal Planet's "Crocodile Hunter" met his fate last month at the business end of a stingray. It was a spectacular death, highly publicized and, as it happened, captured on film for all to see. No doubt it made an impression on kids. Still, Coates was a little surprised that entirely independent groups of schoolchildren in central Vermont chose to honor the Aussie naturalist. "It was unusual," Coates muses. "Two schools in two towns."

And two age groups: Sara Baker's second- and third-graders from Moretown Elementary, and Barbara Austin-Hutchins' juniors and seniors from Montpelier High School. The younger students' installation, near Sur al Norte's front entrance, is on a small table and comprises such objects as a little snake, foil pictures and candleholders. The wall-mounted high school altar is, appropriately, much bigger, says Coates - about 7 feet high and 5 feet wide. "There was more artistic license for the high school kids," he reports.

Locals can view the shrines at his River Street shop; everyone else can check out the Mexican merch at

And how is Coates spending the Day of the Dead? "Working, as always," he says. "Then I'll probably just get together with friends."

Did you appreciate this story?

Show us your ❤️ by becoming a Seven Days Super Reader.

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Pin It

More by Pamela Polston

About The Author

Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston is the cofounder, coeditor and associate publisher of Seven Days. In 2015, she was inducted into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Seven Days moderates comments in order to ensure a civil environment. Please treat the comments section as you would a town meeting, dinner party or classroom discussion. In other words, keep commenting classy! Read our guidelines...

Note: Comments are limited to 300 words.

Recent Comments

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative

All content © 2019 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401
Website powered by Foundation