After an evening of auditions at Jean’s Playhouse, Clark’s Trading Post has found its new Wolfman. Actor, teacher, construction worker - and Santa Claus - Larry Vigus of Barrington, New Hampshire has won the iconic role.
In 1969, the day after graduating from High School, Leon Noel took a job as a laborer at Clark’s Trading Post. He did landscaping, swept the parking lot, and sometimes took tickets.
Four years later, in 1973, as Noel was cutting down trees near the park’s railroad track, he heard the train whistle blow - and had an idea. “This was just something that popped into my head,” Noel says, “And I thought, ‘What the heck? All I can do is get fired.’”
He tied the dead trees to the back of his Model T snow machine and “When the train came out of the bridge, I’d come out of the woods with a load of logs. And people were like ‘Oh look at that. Something to see.’”
Then Noel found an old whisky bottle. And when the next train came along he burst out of the forest waving the bottle and shouting, “Get off my property! Throw those kids off! And the people were taken aback.”
The Wolfman story has continued to evolve ever since. “I think in all we’ve had almost 30 or more Wolfmen,” Noel says, “sometimes just for one train ride or one day or something like that.”
And with the most recent Wolfman retiring after 8 years of chasing trains and frightening kids, Anne Englert, granddaughter of the park’s founders, says it was time to hold an audition to find a new one. “Each contestant is going to get five minutes on stage,” she says, “and we’ve set the stage with different props just as if you were on the train and you were going through the woods.”
Before the audition, the 8 potential Wolfmen gathered on stage at Jean’s Playhouse for a group howl.
Larry Vigus, who would go on to win the Wolfman job, said he was a little nervous about the competition. “Well a lot em look more like what I would cast as a Wolfman than I do. They’re bigger, their beards are longer.”
But Vigus said he was made for the job. “My life plan when I was a boy was to grow up never wearing a tie, and only wearing shorts, a t-shirts and gym shoes.”
And Vigus felt he’d bring some unusual talents to the role. “I teach college students at Boston College in the theater department where I teach them how to be better actors and in the wintertime I am actually Santa Claus. I’m the real Santa Claus.”
Before the auditions began, the Wolfmen gathered for a group howl.
Vigus watched from the wings as the 7 other Wolfmen took the stage before him. First up, traveling storyteller Papa Joe Gaudet.
“What are you doing out here?! What are you laughing about? See something funny up here?” Wolfman Gaudet bellowed at the audience.
To which, the gathered children were only too happy to reply with the Clark’s endorsed epithet, “Scram you old goat!”
Two days before he learned of the auditions, 33 year old Wolfman hopeful Vern Gray shaved his beard. “There are so many great beards here,” he said nervously. “So like – it’s intimidating. But ever since I can remember I was like, I’d love to do this job.”
And then Gray went out on stage and tried to earn it. “What are you doing here? Coming in on this train! With your technology!” he shouted.
“Take a bath!” one kid heckled.
Another added, “Take a shower!”
But they couldn’t catch Wolfman Gray out. “Take a hike!” he ordered them, as the crowd laughed.
And then, finally, it was Larry Vigus’s turn on stage. “Conductor!” he called, “Take these lily livered pigeon licking flatlanders back where they belong!”
The kids were ready, screaming “Scram you old goat!”
“I ain’t no old goat,” Vigus cried, as if long misunderstood. “I’m a wolf! I was raised by Wolvvvvves! We ate goats!!”
Vigus sang, yelled, cried – and even brought kids up on stage, asking one little girl, “Can you cook roadkill?”
She smiled and giggled and then said, “Stinky!”
And Vigus ran with that. “All of you are stinky!” he said, “I just realized you all use soap. I’m allergic to soap! Soap makes me break out in hair! When I take a bath I use sunshine and mud. Can you tell? Can you smell?”
Off-stage, before knowing that he’d won, Larry Vigus said harassing children as the Wolfman all summer long matched well with his merrier, wintertime role. “And so,” he said, “this is a little complement to that because as Santa Claus I have to have teeth and I have to curl my moustache. But as the Wolfman I don’t need no teeth and I can mess up my hair as much as I want.”
Scaring kids in the summer, charming them in the winter, Larry Vigus says he can’t imagine a better way to live.