Nude-Friendly Town Considers Covering Up

Cartoonist Stephen Ironside does a chalk drawing Thursday, July 12, 2007, at Harmony Place in Brattleboro, Vt., borrowing, he said, borrowing the following lyric from a John Lennon song: "don't need a watch to waste your time." Ironside expressed himself with the street art, as he referred to an event on July 6, where a 68-year-old man showed up naked downtown, walking the streets during Gallery Walk, a monthly social event in which people roam downtown, stopping in art galleries and shops. Ironside did not, however, approve of that particular public display of nudity. AP Photo/Alden Pellett

Topless women on parade? That was fine. Teenagers loitering in the buff, in a downtown parking lot? No problem. Naked sunbathers at swimming holes? It was just au naturel.

But a senior citizen in his birthday suit, walking through the center of town on a Friday night, wearing only a fanny pack? That's where Brattleboro draws a fig leaf.

After years of allowing public nudity, the town famous for its strip-and-let-strip attitude is considering banning it in parts of town, saying naked notoriety has begun drawing people here and is offending locals.

The town's Select Board plans to introduce an emergency ordinance banning nudity in some parts of town Tuesday.

"Just because you can doesn't mean you should," said Select Board member Dick DeGray. "You can't go into a store and buy an adult magazine until you're 18, and yet you can walk down the street in Vermont and see naked people. There's something wrong with that picture."

On July 6, a 68-year-old man showed up naked downtown, walking the streets during Gallery Walk, a monthly social event in which people roam downtown, stopping in art galleries and shops. Gallery owner Suzanne Corsano was locking up for the night when she encountered him on a sidewalk.

"Naked people don't impress me," said Corsano, 60. "But to be walking down the street like that. I just looked straight at him, and he looked down. He was trying to get me to look down there, but I wouldn't."

The man told residents he was from Arizona and had decided to vacation in Brattleboro after reading about its public nudity freedom on the Internet.

Vermont has no state laws against public nudity, although a handful of cities and towns have enacted anti-nudity ordinances.

Brattleboro flirted with the idea of an anti-nudity ordinance last summer when a group of teenagers took to hanging around a downtown parking lot in the nude, which led to national publicity and triggered telephone calls from curious people in faraway places.

"They'll call up and say, `So, I hear you've got a lot of naked people running around town,"' said Jerry Goldberg, executive director of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce.

Some would-be visitors call to say they are putting off their planned visit because they're worried about public nudity, he said. Town officials worry, too: The idea of naked people spoiling Gallery Walk night by scaring away families with children is chilling.

"Every time you guys do one of your articles, people come from all over," said police Capt. Steven Rowell.

Last week, a man charged with a felony sex crime for dancing naked in the street pleaded to a lesser offense and got a one-year deferred sentence. Adhi Palar, 20, of Brattleboro, was among the group that dabbled with nudity last summer. He was cited because police said he was seen dancing naked and pulling a piece of clothing back and forth between his legs, rubbing his genitals.

Public nudity is far from an everyday occurrence, but many here want it regulated.

"It's time they did something about it," said Sherwood Smith, manager of Baskets Bookstore, which is located near a parking lot where naked teens gathered last summer. "It hurts a store like this. People who are likely to buy used books are often conservative middle-aged people, or older."

Not everyone agreed.

"I don't like the idea of them taking the rights to something natural away," said Rhiannon Curtis, 19. "I like to swim naked, and that would be affected if they do this. Vermont doesn't need to conform to the rest of society's uptight rules."
  • Keach Hagey

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