Thursday, October 21, 2021

The mystery of the missing stars

A lone star hangs among the mangroves where there used to be dozens. Photos by Natalie Strom

A lone star hangs among the mangroves where there used to be dozens. Photos by Natalie Strom

By Natalie Strom

Year after year driving along the curvy road into Goodland I would notice small silver stars strung throughout the mangroves. As spring would approach the stars would be replaced by Easter eggs. I always found them to be endearing yet never knew why they were hung or by whom. My curiosity was recently spiked during a visit to the Goodland Post Office. There is a corkboard out front of the post office where locals can post anything from homes for rent to petitions to upcoming events. As I was observing what was recently posted I noticed a very grainy photo of a mysterious person walking along the curvy road. A caption on the photo read, “Help Find the Star Thief!” The photo reminded me of pictures of the Loch Ness Monster or the Everglades Skunk Ape. Was this even for real? My curiosity surrounding this mystery led me to dig further. It was true. Most of the stars were missing. Who would take them down? And for that matter, who hangs them up?

I began to speak with many of the locals in Goodland who were able to fill me in on some of the details surrounding the unusual appearance and disappearance of the stars. I was told that the path that runs along the side of the curvy road was named after long-time Goodland resident, Betty Bruno. Betty was quite the philanthropist. She began the Goodland Scholarship Fund which gives the children of Goodland the opportunity to attend college. She also helped to start many of Goodland’s annual traditions such as the Goodland Christmas Bazaar and the Goodland Boat Parade. Betty also wrote a section in one of the Marco Island newspapers about Goodland and its residents. Many Goodlanders feel that Betty helped to mold the village into what it is today. She pushed for years to have a bike path run along the side of the road that leads into town. Her dream was finally realized; unfortunately after her passing. A sign along the road dedicates the path to her – “The Betty Bruno Memorial Bike Path.”

Betty was an inspiration to many Goodlanders. After her passing a close friend of Betty’s began to hang the stars in remembrance of her. Due to the recent removal of the stars, Carolyn Roth has finally decided to share her

The bike path along the winding road is dedicatded to Betty Bruno.

The bike path along the winding road is dedicatded to Betty Bruno.

story. Each year Carolyn would secretly hang the stars to commemorate her dear friend. She also hung the stars in remembrance of her daughter and her husband’s daughter. Both had recently passed when the tradition began. The Easter eggs that come around after the stars are also a memorial to Carolyn’s daughter who was born on Christmas and passed away on Easter. These small tokens are a symbol of her loved ones.

The stars and eggs have special meanings for others as well. Linda Van Meter of Goodland is one such person. After the tragic loss of her sister in 2000, Linda began a private vigil to her. Each year she would quietly walk the Betty Bruno Path and choose a star to dedicate to her sister. More recently, Linda lost her mother and her husband lost his father. She began to dedicate a star to each of them as well. This was her way of remembering her family as she would walk or drive through the curves.

A number of other locals have begun to hang different mementos among the mangroves to remember their loved ones. Carolyn Roth takes care to always save these and re-hang them each year. Anyone that has lost someone special is more than welcome to share in this tradition. Goodlanders are welcome to dedicate a star to a loved one or add a star or memento of their own.

With the mystery of the hanging stars now solved, there is one which still remains. Who is the elusive star thief? The photo at the post office disappeared just as quickly as the stars did. Is the same culprit to be blamed for both disappearances? Does the mysterious figure in the grainy photo even exist? Could this person be worthy of Loch Ness Monster or Everglades Skunk Ape fame? Will this person ever be captured on film again? Unfortunately, we may never know the answer to these questions. Goodlanders can be certain that the tradition of the stars and Easter eggs will continue. Yet, only time will tell if the mystical star thief will ever return.

Natalie Strom has lived in Goodland for over two years and has worked in Goodland on and off for more than five years. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa and is also a former Buzzard Queen of Stan’s Idle Hour in Goodland.

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