Sam Stall

Novelist. Journalist. Repository of Odd Information.

Suburban Legends Rises Again

The Kindle version of my book Suburban Legends: True Tales of Murder, Mayhem and Minivans is now available here. It's a collection of around 60 mostly true-ish stories about awful, and awfully funny, things that happened in the 'burbs. There's the story of a cursed windbreaker; homeowners run out of their abodes by everything from poltergeists to garter snakes to slime mold; and "typical" sagas of suburban terror, including homes built on old graveyards and people who murdered their spouses/friends/parent(s) and then stuffed him/her/them into a freezer/suitcase/tree chipper. You know ... the usual. 

Here's one of the entries:

The Devil’s Lawn Ornament

        The inappropriate or excessive use of lawn statuary has caused many a neighborhood snit. That’s because one man’s cute little garden gnome, homey-looking concrete porch goose, or lifelike ten-point buck can be another’s kitschy, property-value-destroying nightmare.

        Given the discord that any one of those objects could cause if it appeared suddenly in a flower bed, it’s not hard to imagine the havoc wreaked when Danny Van Istendal parked his own unique bit of statuary on the lawn of his Lumberton, New Jersey, home. According to reports, his neighbors called it demonic and despicable (among a great many other things), and accused it of frightening everything from neighborhood children to the horses at a nearby stable.

        One can see their point. Van Istendal’s lawn ornament isn’t the usual bit of crudely made, side-of-the-road goofiness. It’s an eleven-foot-tall, three-thousand-pound statue of a Sumerian fertility god. A really angry one, judging from the look of seething rage on its four-horned, red-eyed, skull-like head.

        The statue came to Van Istendal by way of Hollywood. It was originally built as a prop for the 1955 Lana Turner movie The Prodigal, for which it was painted gold and equipped with light-up red eyes. There was a picture of it on the flick’s poster. After its acting career (which included a couple of cameos in Tarzan movies) dried up, the piece languished for years in front of a Newark lawn service company. Then, in 1984, it was repositioned on a highway north of the Delaware town of Smyrna. First it welcomed visitors to a travel agency, then to a gallery. The piece was nicknamed the “Buddha,” even though there’s absolutely nothing Buddha-esque about its glowering visage.

        When its former owner decided she’d had enough of the thing, Van Istendal offered $4,000 for it. Ironically, he didn’t have a clue about it’s Hollywood origins -- he just liked its looks. He hauled it to his property and carefully positioned it on a five-foot mound of dirt with the setting sun at its back so that his own personal pagan god could cast an intimidating shadow across the road out front. “I think this thing overlooking my yard is kind of cool,” he told theBurlington County Times. “If it offends you, don’t look at it.”

        The neighborhood was offended and decided that no one should look at it. City officials, using an extremely free interpretation of local zoning ordinances, told Van Istendal that he had to banish his god to a spot where it couldn’t be seen from the road. Van Istendal fought the ruling, stating that the statue was already concealed behind a six-foot fence. Actually, “concealed” probably wasn’t the right word. The “Buddha” towered over the fencing, allowing it to leer at startled motorists.

        These days the statue leers at no one, save for Van Istendal and invited guests.

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