HARTFORD — After 45 years, the old soldier was relieved of his post Friday.
Braced, wrapped tightly in plastic, he was hoisted onto a flatbed and taken away for much-needed rest and recovery.
Since 1968, his face, hands and rifle already long gone, the 8½-foot brownstone figure stood guard at a quiet, grassy corner of Airport Road. He had survived floods, relocations, vandalism and decades of neglect through a lifetime estimated at 144 to 147 years.
Those who cared about him knew that his days were numbered. The ravages of time and frost would soon prove fatal, reducing one of the oldest Civil War monuments in the state to a pile of crumbled dust and stone.
Thanks to help from his friends, a more dignified fate awaits.
Over the coming weeks, the "Forlorn Soldier," as he has come to be known in recent years, will be under the care of monument conservator Francis Miller at his Hamden studio.
He will be bathed and recolored, his numerous fractures stabilized, before being recalled to duty at a much more prominent post, the interior of the state Capitol, following a formal dedication Sept. 17, on the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.
Matthew Warshauer, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University who serves as co-chairman of the Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Commission, said the decision not to restore the soldier's face, hands and other missing parts is intentional. The very imperfections of the monument, possibly the state's oldest featuring the figure of a Union soldier, make it a valuable teaching tool, an object of curiosity for the thousands of students who tour the building each year.
"This guy is not perfect. He is scarred, battle-scarred. He is not going to be behind a beautiful glass case. Visitors will say 'Jeez, what happened to him?'" Warshauer said.
Before being loaded onto the truck, the Forlorn Soldier received ceremonial tribute from a color guard of Civil War re-enactors, with an original song composed and performed for the occasion by former Connecticut State Troubadour Tom Callinan.
Hartford lawyer Peter G. Kelly and several members of his family attended the send-off. The Kelly family has owned the statue since 1895, when brothers Michael and John Kelly bought a stone-cutting business at Charter Oak Avenue and Union Street begun by James G. Batterson, the founder of Travelers Insurance. The business eventually became one of the nation's leading monument producers. After the statue was moved to Airport Road, the family sold off its surrounding holdings there but retained ownership of the sculpture and a 10-foot-square area around the base.
After a breakfast meeting with Warshauer arranged by a mutual friend, former CCSU President Richard Judd, Kelly agreed to donate the work to the state of Connecticut. He and the Travelers Foundation are underwriting the preservation.
"I'm so delighted that Matt came up with this,'' Kelly said. "It's a happy thing to have found it a home."
A long-standing mythology has surrounded the monument's creation and why it remained in storage for many years at Batterson's New England Granite Works lot. Carved from Portland brownstone, a sedimentary stone then much in demand but notorious for its tendency to flake and crack, it was believed to have been a reject. The principal evidence, so the argument went, was that the figure was shown at parade rest with the wrong foot — the right foot — thrust forward.
Anthony Roy, a CCSU graduate student who has extensively researched the monument, believes the theory is wrong. Other Batterson-produced monuments feature the same pose, known as place rest. A more likely explanation, he said, is that the Old Soldier was developed as an early model for figures atop much larger works, such as the brownstone Soldiers' Memorial in Granby and the colossal Private Soldier Monument at the Antietam National Cemetery, both attributed to Batterson's chief sculptor, Charles Conrads.
The real story will probably never be known.
"There might not be a conclusion. That might be the story,'' Roy said.
What is known is that the statue barely survived the floods of 1936 and the 1938 hurricane. The head was severed in the 1936 flooding and had to be reattached, according to a humorous account in The Courant, which referred to the monument as "Old Hay Foot." Later damage, particularly the face, cannot be blamed on nature, but neighborhood vandals firing BBs and pellets.
Miller said the monument is the most extensively damaged of any piece he has ever worked. Metal rods and pins were inserted before transport for stabilization, and epoxy applied to some of the fissures. Earlier attempts at re-cementing the fractures did more harm than good.
"Our goal is to stabilize it and keep the aged quality. This will be a great educational tool showing not just how brownstone deteriorates, but how stone deteriorates on a monument when not taken care of,'' he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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