Have we turned a stalker into a local folk hero?

Looking at the overpass message through a different lens can be chilling

Readers will have much to enjoy about Joyce Marcel's feature, in which she writes about what is widely regarded as a piece of Brattleboro lore. We publish it with that hope and in that spirit.

But think about it.

A woman came to Vermont with her children in 1974 to elude an estranged partner who then tracked her down and obsessively pursued her, literally ignoring requests to leave and not taking "no" for an answer. After seeing the 3-foot-tall message to her painted on a railroad overpass, the woman sought help from police - who responded dismissively. The man, undeterred, continued his quest until he wore her down and the woman finally agreed to marry him.

That sounds terrifying.

To be clear: Nothing reported and written about Mary Shiminski and Bert Silva over the past 50 years has suggested that abuse was a part of this relationship. Nothing has indicated that Silva was anything other than an over-the-top goofball who would go to absurd, dramatic extremes of highly visible vandalism to private property to woo Shiminski. The two raised a family together and, as the Brattleboro Reformer reported about 10 years ago, even after they divorced they remained good friends.

But, in 2024, we would be remiss if we didn't acknowledge the grim warning that co-exists in this story, right along with the years of mystery, the local lore, and the folk music. Such coercive behavior all too often is also a huge red flag for other domestic abuse - or the potential for such behavior to escalate.

So if elements of this story feel congruent with your own domestic situation, we encourage you to consider seeking out the services of the Women's Freedom Center ( or find similar support. Please do so with care. Please be safe.

I'd like to think that if a Bert Silva today were guilelessly smitten with a Mary Shiminski and wanted another chance at a relationship, he would express that desire by doing something far, far less obsessive, creepy, and coercive to the person he ostensibly loves. I'd like to think that at the very least he wouldn't stalk her.

Read the room, dudes. -Jeff Potter

This News Brattleboro was submitted to The Commons.

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