In the Berkshires, a family farm drew national attention after a massive political sign supporting the Democratic presidential ticket was burned to the ground Friday evening — less than a day after it was erected by farmhands.
A new sign of nearly identical proportions — stacked bales of hay, painted red and blue on top of a white covering — now stands where the old one did, preaching a message of “love,” “unity,” and “respect” amid a tumultuous election season.
Dicken Crane, owner of Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton, decided on the new message after seeing the widespread attention drawn by his first sign, which expressed support for former vice president Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris of California.
“We really didn’t want to increase the divisiveness around the election,” Crane said in a phone interview Monday morning. “It’s a message that we really hope this country is about. If we respect unity and love, it makes the names on the political message less important.”
Passersby along Route 9 would stop and take photographs with the original sign during its brief tenure on the farm property. The new sign serves as a sort of tourist attraction — Crane has seen a nonstop flow of visitors since it was resurrected Sunday night, just before sunset.
Megan Whalen, a Pittsfield resident, drove out to the farm Friday evening after seeing social media posts about the original sign. Her partner took photographs of her with the sign before they went for a walk in the nearby woods.
When they returned, the sign was ablaze.
“We were in shock,” said Whalen, who is voting for Biden and Harris in the upcoming election. “I think this attack has only strengthened people’s resolve to vote the current president out of office and set our country on a more just, more kind, and more ethical path.”
Lonnie Durfee, 49, of Dalton, is facing charges of burning personal property in connection with the fire, police said Saturday. He will be arraigned at Central Berkshire District Court on Tuesday.
Hundreds of supporters reached out to Crane and the farm crew over the weekend, expressing their gratitude for the signs. Since he normally hosts pancake breakfasts and farm tours when there’s not a pandemic, Crane said he’s grateful for the overwhelmingly positive response and outreach from the community.
While building the new sign, “people were honking, no one was giving us the finger,” Crane said, laughing.
Other locals stopped by to watch the crew assemble the marshmallow-like hay bales — two bales wide on the bottom for safety — and paint the red-and-blue lettering. Side by side, Crane’s family and farmhands resurrected the 15-foot-tall structure.
“Many people, including myself, have been heartened by the outpouring of support for the family and the farm, and the choice to go with a message of unity,” said Katy Eiseman, a longtime Cummington resident and member of the town’s Planning Board. “I believe that we are collectively better than what this destructive act of one man conveys.”
Supporters of President Trump who have reached out to Crane in recent days have given him hope for the future of politics, he said. Many of his friends, local farmers and loggers, support Trump’s reelection efforts.
“The nicest thing has been the number of Trump supporters who actually said they respect what we’re doing,” Crane said. “There’s obviously some people that don’t agree with us, but it’s just nice to know they agree with our right to do what we’re doing. I think that’s what this country is supposed to be about.”
Though many people have reached out offering donations to the farm, Crane said his business doesn’t need them. Instead, he asks those offering support to donate to groups that advocate for ending voter suppression, such as the American Civil Liberty Union’s Voting Rights Project.
A GoFundMe page was created two days ago to direct funds to the project, with the initial goal of raising $1,200. More than $2,000 had been raised as of Monday morning.
“We don’t want people to send us money, our need is not as great compared to the needs of many others,” the farm owner said.
Matt Berg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.