As of Monday, February 11, Richard Gray said his project to honor those who died in Sandy Hook on 12/14 was going full throttle. The only problem is, the nearly seven-ton granite memorial that is taking shape under the hands of craftspeople in Downeast Maine currently has not been guaranteed a site in Newtown.
Town officials in Newtown have not spoken directly with Mr Gray, a recent resident of Merritt Island, Fla., and former longtime resident of Gouldsboro, Maine, according to Sue Marcinek, executive assistant to First Selectman Pat Llodra.
Rob Kaiser of HealingNewtown Arts Space, an organization working to help the Newtown Cultural Arts Commission deal with the overwhelming response from the art community, said the group had received a submission form from Mr Gray last month, but had asked for his patience “as we have many larger issues to resolve in advance — not the least of which is the fate of Sandy Hook School.”
Neither Parks and Recreation, nor the ad hoc Parks and Recreation group handling gifts to the town, has been contacted by Mr Gray, said director Amy Mangold. A decision on a permanent type of memorial and where that might be located has not been made at this time.
Mr Gray admitted that this is not the kind of gift to the town that can be easily moved, once it is set in place. He is hopeful that by the time the monument, engraved with the names of all who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School, is completed in early March that he will have an answer as to where it will end up.
“It all started with a dream, or vision. In this dream, I [was] standing there looking at a wall and when I turned around there were thousands of people watching, waiting to see it.” This is how the Maine native describes his immediate response to 12/14 on the website mainelovessandyhook.com, set up shortly after the Sandy Hook incident.
“That shooting felt very local to me. It’s New England. I love where I’m from, and I have a 7-year-old little girl,” said Mr Gray. He shared his vision with a friend in Maine, who urged him to make the vision a reality. One connection led to another. The website was set up, a Facebook page opened, and people began to respond.
His brother, the assistant fire chief in Sullivan, Maine, contacted Conrad Smith of Sullivan Granite Company. Mr Smith agreed to donate an eight- by three-foot slab of granite.
“Rich and I are neighborhood friends,” said Mr Smith. “Rich has his own reasons for wanting to do this. I did it as a favor to Rich and to the people of Sandy Hook. We’re all one love, as they say. I’m happy to have an opportunity to show that what I do in this world is good,” he said.
The wedge-shaped piece of granite is a salt and pepper gray, said Mr Smith, and his rough guess is that it weighs “a couple thousand pounds.”
Mr Smith put Rich Gray in touch with his friend Brian Harkins of Harkins Masonry in Seal Cove, Maine. Harkins Masonry picked up the granite piece from Sullivan Granite Company and transported it to Seal Cove, where Mike Harkins, Jr, has been polishing the face of the stone and etching each name into it.
The lettering, said Mr Gray, who worked with Noah Mohr of Mohr Signs in Bar Harbor, Maine, to create the design, is a replica of his daughter Jayden’s handwriting. It was her idea that the letters in the names of each of the children from Sandy Hook School be different colors, and each staff member’s name be in gold, he said.
The grandfather of 12 children, Brian Harkins said that the news of the shootings in Sandy Hook was a terrible tragedy that he could not imagine enduring. Having seen the Facebook page for the memorial, and knowing Mr Smith, he was happy to be able to donate to the cause.
“I was kind of hoping I could give the folks down there [in Sandy Hook] a little closure,” Mr Harkins said.
The stone has been leveled, surfaced with grinders, and the edges softened to prepare it for the names, he said. The words “In Loving Memory” will be done in raised lettering across the top of the stone, with the 26 names blasted into the face of the stone below that. A special stone dye will be used to color the letters, Mr Harkins said. With no setbacks, he expected the etching to be finished by the end of the week of February 10.
“I think it’s an excellent idea that Rich has had,” he said, “and I hope it’s appreciated on the other end.”
The base is its own work of art, and has been donated by Adam Meyer of Maine Coast Creations, who had been contacted to donate one of his custom seasphere shell ornaments to an auction to raise money for the memorial. He donated 26.
After looking at the Sandy Hook Elementary School Memorial Facebook page, he contacted Mr Gray and offered to make the base on which the engraved granite piece will sit. So far, Mr Meyer has put in more than 200 hours to create it. Using 1,000 pounds of crushed mussel shells mixed into concrete, the ten- by four-foot, by one-foot high base weighs 12,000 pounds, and is the largest Mr Meyer has ever made, he said.
Twenty-six LED lights were set into the base before the concrete mix was poured into the mold. Those lights will be flush with the top of the base, said Mr Meyer, and will light the victims’ names. Additional fiber optic lights will glow through the hearts of each of twenty 4½-inch-high and six 6-inch-tall stainless steel angels set into the face of the base.
The long hours of grinding the rough base to bring out the beauty of the shells embedded in the concrete have given him a great deal of time for reflection, he said. Mr Meyer anticipates finishing his part of the project by early March.
“I felt compelled to offer my skills and knowledge,” said Mr Meyer, “and I hope it’s accepted [by Newtown]. It’s up to the community.” He is trying to “go with the flow” and “hoping and praying that the finished memorial is worthy for what it is intended for.”
Plans for moving the finished memorial from Maine to Newtown include several stops at fire stations along the way, including the main Boston firehouse, Mr Gray said. According to Mr Gray, Greg Stanchak of Gjs Transportation in Seymour, Conn. has offered to drive up to Maine, load the memorial on a flatbed truck and drive it to Newtown. All work is on track for the project to be completed in March, Mr Gray said, and he remains optimistic that by then, he will have received permission from Newtown to deliver it and place it in its final, permanent place.
All of the work and materials to date have been donated, he said, and further donations will be used to cover the costs of transporting the memorial and permanent placement. He is determined that there will be no cost to Newtown, and marveled at the generosity of those involved.
“Nobody was reluctant, at all. It seems like [12/14] affected a lot of people. The day it happened,” recalled Mr Gray, “I couldn’t wait for my daughter to get off the school bus. My daughter means everything to me; she’s my life. When I had this idea, I knew I had to act on it,” he said. There is a great awareness among those involved in making the memorial, and for himself, that what happened at Sandy Hook School could happen anywhere, he said.
“Since we got started, my whole thing has been that nobody is going to benefit from our [Facebook] page or the memorial,” Mr Gray said. Any money left over from donations to support the memorial will be given to the Town of Newtown, the day the memorial is delivered.
When that will happen, and whether the town will accept the monument, remains to be resolved.
“I’ve never done anything like this before. I just want to pay tribute to people we don’t know, but care about. I want to do something positive. It’s nice, isn’t it,” asked Mr Gray, “to see something good happen?”