In search of: Scooby-Doo in Massachusetts

The famous talking dog ÿ not to mention those pesky kids ÿ weren't conjured out of thin air.
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The Independent Travel

Scooby was last seen on TV some 20 years ago, and rumours of his removal to that great kennel in the sky have been circulating ever since. Doo had merely been plotting his return to the limelight, however, and it is in the pastures of his puppyhood that we explore the ultimate cartoon question.

Scooby was last seen on TV some 20 years ago, and rumours of his removal to that great kennel in the sky have been circulating ever since. Doo had merely been plotting his return to the limelight, however, and it is in the pastures of his puppyhood that we explore the ultimate cartoon question.

Scooby-Doo, where are you?

Rin the Rioneer Ralley of Restern Rassachusetts.

Um... could you repeat that please?

Sorry, I was munching on a Scooby Snack. I meant to say that Scooby-Doo is alive and well in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, USA. A historic pocket of America, many of the towns and villages that dot the area can trace their founding dates back to the mid-18th century.

A big star like him in rural New England? Whatever is he doing there?

Reliving his days as a pup, of course. After all, it was in this tiny corner of America that the monster-mashing Great Dane was discovered and transformed into the star he is today.

Okay, this needs a bit of explaining

According to popular myth, Scooby-Doo and his friends – Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy – are based on the characteristics of the students of the five colleges that litter Massachusetts' rural centre; specifically, they are Smith College, Amherst College, UMass-Amherst, Mount Holyoke College and Hampshire College.

You're kidding

I'm deadly serious. Apparently, one of the creators of the popular television cartoon had graduated from UMass-Amherst and thought it would be a great idea to base a series of stories around his college experiences.

So how does it work?

Let's begin with Fred. Amherst College forms the basis for this level-headed and sporty A-type personality. Traditionally a sports-orientated school, Amherst attracts preppie future lawyers sharing a love of American football and V-neck jumpers. Located in the picturesque village of Amherst (the home of the poet Emily Dickinson), it's considered a bit of a party school for those with old money and even older family secrets.

Hampshire College, also in Amherst, is a non-traditional institution of higher education, requiring neither exams nor papers to graduate. A 1960s educational experiment, Hampshire College attracts a solidly left-wing core of students who are well known in the region for their love of mind-expanding wacky weeds. They're often looking for "snacks" to sate their regular attacks of "the munchies", resulting in occasional periods of paranoia.

That's Shaggy you're talking about?

Bingo.

I'm beginning to see the connection. So, there are three more characters in the Mystery Machine

Up to Northampton, Massachusetts, on the Bay Road we go, to the home of Smith College. A women-only university, Smith is well known for attracting bluestocking types. The town is considered the lesbian capital of the United States, with more than 60 per cent of residents claiming Sapphic inclinations. It's a haven for vegetarian cafés and feminist bookstores. The poet Sylvia Plath is possibly the most revered graduate from these parts and probably would have hung out with Velma, if the bespectacled one hadn't spent so much time off with the gang on the trail of mystery and mayhem.

A quick jaunt down Route 116 in the direction of South Hadley will take you to Mount Holyoke College. The traditional resting place for future brides of Amherst College graduates, Mount Holyoke is another of America's few women-only educational institutions. The red-brick, gothic campus is a breeding ground for debutantes and cultured suburban housewives. Can we say Daphne, perhaps? Tony-award-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein (author of The Heidi Chronicles) is one of its best known alumni – and one of its harshest critics.

And as for our star, Scooby, he is based on UMass-Amherst, located back in the town where our adventure began. Scooby's creator felt that the college (one of the largest, population-wise, in the States) was somewhat zoo-like and developed a character based on this notion. Step forward, Mr Scoobert Doo – yes, that is his real name.

Jinks! So what other connections to the world of animation does the Pioneer Valley have to offer?

Up until a couple of years ago, Northampton was home to the internationally renowned Words and Pictures Museum of Fine Sequential Art. Founded by the philanthropist and artist Kevin B Eastman, of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame, the museum is now virtual, yet continues to consider Northampton its geographical base. Occasional live exhibits of influential, alternative and independent comic art are still curated by the museum in Northampton, even though the collection no longer has a stand-alone gallery in town. The museum can only be contacted online ( www.wordsandpictures.org).

So if I wanted to meet Scooby, where would be the best place to look?

Try the Thirsty Mind coffee shop (001 413 538 9309) located in the Village Commons on College Street in South Hadley. It attracts students from across the valley. In the original television series, a regular hangout referred to as "The Malt Shop" was based on The Thirsty Mind. You could also try resting your head at Hotel Northampton (001 413 584 3100). Similar in style to the spooky mansion owned by Shaggy's Uncle Nathaniel, the Hotel Northampton is a Colonial Revival inn built in 1927. Considered the finest place to stay in town, the hotel is officially ghost-free, even if it does find itself the unwilling home to some of the local bats that populate the area. Double rooms start from $145 (£93) a night.

So how do I get there?

Hartford, Connecticut, is the closest major airport to the area, located approximately 30 miles south of Northampton. United Airlines (0845 8444 777; www.unitedairlines.co.uk) offers the most frequent service to Hartford, connecting in Washington. Return fares cost from £558.

American Independence (0870 241 4217) offers a 14-night fly-drive holiday to Massachusetts from £1,435 per person, based on two sharing. The price includes return flights to Boston, 11 days' car hire and room-only accommodation, staying four nights in Boston, five nights in Newport and five nights in Connecticut.

For further information, contact the Massachusetts tourist board (020-7978 5233; www.massvacation.com).

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