For months, residents and visitors from out of town who have wanted to visit Sandy Hook School, or some kind of monument in its vicinity, have not had a place to go. The driveway to the school has been closed for months, and no permanent site has been set up yet. By Tuesday, August 13 — one day before another anniversary of the event that has transformed Newtown forever — those seeking to meditate or to pay their respects to those killed on 12/14 will have a place to do so.
On Monday, August 12, all Newtown residents will have two opportunities to welcome Rock of Angels, a monument that has been a labor of love by Maine sculptor Richard Gray for the past eight months. Thanks to a small group of Newtown residents and quick action by members and leadership of St John’s Episcopal Church, the monument will be permanently installed in Sandy Hook Center next week.
“I think once you put something like this in place, that’s its home,” Cheryl Moulthrop, treasurer of St John’s Episcopal Church, said Tuesday, August 6. The monument will eventually be surrounded by benches, and it will be close to, but not right on top of, the Sandy Hook Elementary School property line. That pleases Mrs Moulthrop.
“It’s about as close as you’re going to get without being on the school property,” she said. “It will certainly be accessible to the public,” she continued. “We just hope people will be courteous, and don’t abuse it.”
Rock of Angels is a seven-ton granite memorial monument to the 26 children and women killed on 12/14. A wedge-shaped, salt-and-pepper gray piece of granite features six hearts and an angel carved across what has become the front of the monument. The names of the 20 children killed on December 14, 2012, are within the hearts, two on either side of the angel. The names of the six women killed that Friday morning have been carved within the outline of the angel.
The lettering of the children’s names is based on handwriting of Mr Gray’s daughter, Jayden. It was her idea, Mr Gray told The Bee in February, to have the letters of the children’s names in different colors, and the letters of the women’s names in gold.
Lettering above the hearts and angel says “In Loving Memory,” while wording below the names and artwork says “Forever In Our Hearts… Always In Our Minds...”
Adam Meyer of Maine Coast Creations created the base upon which the engraved granite piece sits. Using 1,000 pounds of crushed mussel shells mixed into concrete, the finished piece is ten feet wide by four feet deep, and weighs 12,000 pounds. The finished piece weighs approximately 22,000 pounds.
Twenty-six LED lights were set into the base of the monument before concrete mix was poured into the mold. The lights are flush with the top of the base, and will light the names of the victims. Additional fiber optic lighting will glow through the 26 stainless steel angels set into the face of the base.
From the stone to the design of the monument and its lettering, nearly everything to do with Rock of Angels has been donated. On August 2 it was moved from Cutler, Maine, to Sullivan, Maine — lifted by a 380 Volvo Excavator onto a truck owned by Chadwick-Eaross of Bangor, and then relocated, yet another donation of time and labor — where it was part of Sullivan Daze Parade on August 3.
It has been under lock and key all week, but is scheduled to begin its trip south on Saturday, August 10.
The Perfect Location
A small group of residents has been in regular contact with Mr Gray since the beginning of the year, when word of the monument reached town. A few Facebook pages have been hosting discussions about the progress of the monument, and their concern of lacking destination once was delivered.
Town officials have been saying for months that items donated to the town would be put into temporary, but probably long-term, storage until each piece could be assessed by a permanent memorial committee. The committee will not be seated until the fall, however. Mr Gray was still planning to bring Rock of Angels to town on August 12.
Among the Sandy Hook residents who have been trying to find a place for Rock of Angels are Pete Barresi and Sam Mihailoff.
“I don’t remember how I learned about the monument, but I thought it was beautiful,” Mr Mihailoff said Wednesday afternoon. He had visited the municipal center a few times, he said, with ideas for the monument’s placement. “They told me they weren’t ready for it, to wait,” he said.
But as months went on, the concern grew that the monument would be put into storage, and left there for years. Suggestions to place it at Ram Pasture, Fairfield Hills, The Glen, along the Pootatuck River and other locations were all denied, according to Mr Mihailoff.
Word came a few weeks ago that the monument would be in Connecticut on August 11, and delivered to Newtown the following day. Residents who had been following the monument’s process began looking forward to seeing it. But with that happiness came a growing concern over where the memorial would be situated once it arrived.
Last weekend, said Mrs Moulthrop, a lot of brainstorming was done.
“My sister Janet called me Saturday afternoon,” Mrs Moulthrop said. “She said ‘Rock of Angels … what about the church?’”
“We have this spot in the back, a field where the farmers market was before it was moved,” said Mrs Moulthrop. “We had even thought ourselves of putting a serenity garden in there, or an area for mediation, with some benches, and flowers. We even had plans drawn up, but we have other things in our budget that are more urgent — repairs, maintenance — so those things have been tabled.”
Mrs Moulthrop discussed the suggestion with her husband, St John’s Warden Bruce Moulthrop, “and he thought it was a great idea,” she said. On Sunday morning the Moulthrops presented the idea to Father Mark Moore and other members of the church leadership. There was a brief meeting following Sunday’s worship service, and then Mrs Moulthrop “had an e-mail chain going all afternoon,” she said.
It was Mr Gray’s wish that the monument not be placed in a green in the center of town, or in front of a building, Mrs Moulthrop said.
“If someone wants to come and meditate by the stone, he wants them to have privacy,” she said. The location behind the small stone church at 5 Washington Avenue continued to make sense to the small group facilitating the project.
“We got in touch with Pete and Sam, who got in touch with Richard” about the proposed location, said Mrs Moulthrop, “who said it was wonderful.
“It’s not going to be visible from the road. You’ll need to pull into the parking lot to visit it,” she pointed out. “It’s exactly the kind of setting he was hoping for.”
Mr Gray and his daughter are in Ellsworth, Maine, this week. Having moved to Florida recently, the two have been visiting his parents. He and his daughter, he said Wednesday evening, plan to be in Newtown next week.
“I’m am really excited,” he said.
“I won’t lie,” he added. “We were worried [that a location would not be ready for Rock of Angels].”
But Mr Gray was also encouraged, he said, at the response he has received from some people in Newtown in recent months. He has been in touch, he said, with the parents of some of the children who died; and that Mr Barresi and Mr Mihailoff, and others, have all talked to a few local people on his behalf. He has not heard anything negative from any of the families, he said.
St John’s Church “stepped up,” he said, when they agreed to host the monument.
Rock of Angels will begin moving south on Saturday, August 10, visiting at least seven firehouses before it crosses from in The Pine Tree State into The Granite State. It will continue to travel on a 63-foot flatbed through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island before arriving in Connecticut.
It will make its Nutmeg State debut on Sunday, August 11, during the Power of Peace Family Fest at Bushnell Park in Hartford. On Monday, it will be on the road toward Sandy Hook. Residents are planning to be stationed on the River Road bridge in Southbury, just west of the Exit 13 onramp, to welcome the monument and its escort vehicles. The caravan is hoping to pass under the bridge around 2 pm, and then arrive in Sandy Hook shortly thereafter.
As with the work that was done in Maine by volunteers, the clearing of the field behind St John’s Church was taken care of quickly this week. Mrs Moulthrop called Mr Mihailoff on Sunday night to let him know the church vestry had approved to use of its field for the monument. By mid-Monday afternoon, following a few phone calls, the lot had been cleared of brush and mowed, and a 20- by 20-foot hole had been dug and filled with gravel so that Rock of Angels has a receiving place.
“That whole Maine spirit of stepping up and doing things for others? Billy Pendergast, Rob Manna, and Tommy Adams have done the exact same thing,” Mr Mihailoff said of some of the men who helped take care of preparing the field on Monday, without hesitation nor payment. “These people are all doing it the old Newtown way, the way I remember it from 30 years ago.”
A request has been issued for the public to not visit the area behind St John’s Church until about 6 pm Monday. With its approximately 7,100-square-foot parking area, shared with the Masonic lodge, and a rear driveway of about 6,200 square feet available, there is not a lot of room for the public to be safely in what will resemble a small construction zone. The field where the monument will be installed is to the west of the rear driveway, up a slight hill.
“Once it comes into St John’s parking lot that afternoon, its going to be a work area,” said Mrs Moulthrop. “There are going to be large construction pieces, and our back parking lot is going to be a very limited space.”
A brief ceremony, lasting no more than 20 minutes, will take place Monday evening. Newtown and Sandy Hook residents are invited.
“At 6 pm, Richard hopes to make a formal presentation,” said Mrs Moulthrop. “He will be presenting the monument to the residents of Sandy Hook and Newtown. It’s not being given to St John’s per se. We’re just the custodians of it.
“It’s not being given to the town government either,” she added. “It’s being given to all of us, to the people of Newtown.”
Newtown Bee Features Writer Nancy K. Crevier contributed to this story.