WEST CAPE MAY — It’s a dark winter night and the park is empty. Or ... is it?
Suddenly, movement. Yes, somebody slinking through the entrance gate, armed with long metal spikes of some sort. They’re pulling something out of a pouch. It looks like a ball of some sort, kind of like a ball of yarn, pink yarn. Before long another tree, signpost or lamp standard is covered with brightly colored yarn.
Yes, the midnight knitter has struck again.
And officials are stumped again.
The midnight knitter (or knitters) remains at large.
“We don’t know who it is,” said Mayor Pam Kaithern. “Technically, they shouldn’t be doing it. The police are asking about it, but it’s fun and it’s a mystery.”
Kaithern said most people enjoy the adornments that have brought blues, pinks, teal, yellow, reds, purples, lime green and other colors to Wilbraham Park, which tends to be pretty bland this time of year. It looks as if someone is trying to keep the trees and lamp standards warm by wrapping them up in leggings and scarves.
Even though nobody has admitted to doing the knitting, a Facebook page called Salty Knits is loaded with positive responses. Kaithern said she doesn’t know who’s doing it, nor does she care.
“Let’s keep it a mystery,” she said.
Local artist Diane Flanegan is hoping the mystery knitters will get up from their rocking chairs and admit the deed at the park’s first big event of the season. She is one of the organizers of the annual Strawberry Festival, which is set for June 5 this year.
“We love them. We don’t know who they are, but we put in a request for them to reveal themselves at the Strawberry Festival,” Flanegan said.
Fans of the work argue it is an art form, a whimsical one at that. The area is known for its artists, including potters, painters, woodworkers and, now, knitters.
“It’s typical West Cape May art. It’s so quirky. It’s like the green magnetic fish at the Flying Fish studio,” Flanegan said.
There is at least one difference between famous artists like Christo and the midnight knitters of Wilbraham Park.
“Christo does it with permission. These guys do it in the dead of night,” said Richmond Shreve, while lunching across from the park Monday at the coffee shop Higher Grounds.
Shreve is a fan, as was everybody else at Higher Grounds on Monday.
“I think it’s what the town needs. It gets the town talking,” Higher Grounds owner Katie Panamarenko said.
Christo, of course, sought publicity for each project he did with his late wife, Jean Claude, as they decorated entire islands, covered landscapes with blue and yellow umbrellas or adorned Central Park in New York City with saffron-colored gates. Nobody is quite sure if the goal here is to create temporary works of art or if someone is just having fun.
“Art is in the eye of the beholder,” Kaithern said.
Regulars at the park love the handiwork. Susan Longacre, who lives at Victorian Towers in Cape May, takes her daily walk in the park to see the latest attack firsthand. Longacre admitted senior citizens at Victorian Towers have contributed yarn to the midnight knitters, some of whom she knows.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Longacre said.
Others are indifferent.
“It doesn’t bother me. It’s better than somebody spray painting all over the place,” said local resident Jamie Smith.
One neighbor, Mark Lukas, who has a house across the street but also lives in New York City, disapproves. He said Christo’s “The Gates” was amazing but noted it was “appropriate and approved.” Lukas said the Shade Tree Commission should step in as the tree cozies hurt the charm and authenticity of a borough with old Victorian homes.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate. It’s a public space and people should not be able to go in and do what they want to do,” Lukas said.
Flanegan said after such a cold winter, with blizzards and power outages and weeks without sunshine, the midnight knitters are welcome — though still unidentified.
“I think they’re actually going out and knitting in the middle of the night. That’s weird and that’s why people like it,” Flanegan said.
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