Thursday, October 30, 2014

Infantryman Returns Home

Canton’s Infantryman at the turn of the 20th 
century with a group of Canton High School girls. 

As is so often the case, soldiers that return home from war are often broken. We see the veterans who have sacrificed for our great nation, but sometimes what we fail to see are the scars hidden deep inside. And, if there could be a metaphor for all this, it is the soldier that is about to return home to Canton next week.

This soldier, Infantryman, has stood guard for over one hundred years. You may have seen him during his lonely vigil, looking down over Washington Street – or standing guard at the end of a dusty hallway. Yet, his is a history that will come full circle in just a matter of days. This is the story of the Civil War Monument and one man who has a pretty ambitious bucket list.

On the second floor of the William’s Estate is the office of the Veteran’s Agent, Tony Andreotti. The office is littered with flags, files, and plaques. Sitting behind his desk, one day last year, Melissa Araujo walked into his office. Melissa is the daughter of a Canton man that had been killed in action in Vietnam. Andreotti had been recognizing various fallen heroes at their graveside for the past several years, and a few years ago attention was turned to Rudolph Araujo who had died almost forty-four years ago.

At the simple ceremony, at St. Mary’s Cemetery on Washington Street, the family gathered to pay tribute to a husband, father and citizen of Canton. As Andreotti looked down at the headstone he shook his head, “this was a small, government issued stone that seemed so insignificant- certainly given the sacrifice that Rudolph had made to his country.” And, as far as sacrifices go, Araujo gave the ultimate one – his life. In a far away place, near Binh Duong, South Vietnam, an explosive device killed the 29 year-old army mechanic just four days before Christmas. In an instant, a wife and a daughter’s holidays were forever changed. In that winter of 1969, the Town of Canton mourned the loss of one of its own.

And, reflecting upon that modest stone, it was apparent to Andreotti that something had to change. “The original stone was so insignificant that you could not find it. I think perhaps the family might not have had the means for a larger stone. So, we are correcting this now.” And, by correcting it, Andreotti means that he will make the insignificant, now significant. It has always been the mission of this Veteran’s Agent to make us see what has been lost to time. This past Sunday on a crisp autumn morning, family and friends and townspeople gathered at the grave of Rudolph Ernest Araujo. The air hung heavy, and leaves crunched underfoot. In this sacred place,  Andreotti helped us remember the sacrifice of this amazing hero. What was there was trivial, what is now there today is proper.

What has been done makes us stand up, take notice, and remember. And still, another soldier is about to return and as a result of significant funding by the people of Canton, we will give our tribute to the fallen Civil War soldiers from Canton. By now, everyone knows the story of the statue that had stood at Memorial Hall. One night, hoodlums from a neighboring town – in response to local rivalries – hitched a rope around the statue and tied the other end to the bumper of a car and in an instant destroyed a monument to the War of the Rebellion.

Andreotti was reminded that Community Preservation money could help restore the statue, the repair of which had been on his “bucket list” for quite some time. “I conceived of the project in 2000 – a year into my new job as agent. I asked Buddy Fallon to get a quote for restoration, and as budgets have always been tight it was impossible to undertake.” Explains Andreotti, “Jeremy Comeau gave me the hint … we were at Starbucks one day and he tipped me off.  And I went after the money and fortunately the town was receptive.”

Canton’s Civil War Monument has a name – known simply as Infantryman, the statue is painted, cast-zinc, and manufactured by the J.W. Fiske Company in the early 1890’s. Weighing in at 400 pounds and measuring almost seven feet high, this statue has several “brothers” throughout the country.  This same statue can be found in Iola, Kansas at the town cemetery, in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and more importantly one on Martha’s Vineyard at Oak Bluffs.

It is important to note that these statues were made of soft metal called zinc. The costs of production of zinc as opposed to bronze are lower due to its low melting temperature and yet when cast it mimics bronze. At the time, zinc was referred to as “white bronze” and was marketed as alternative to actual bronze. In the late 1800’s it was very common for garden sculptures and memorials to be cast in zinc, examples of such can be found in the old part of Canton Corner Cemetery. For a town like Canton, and even though donated by the wealthy philanthropist Elijah Morse, the choice of zinc over more expensive sculptures meant the ability to order a statue from a catalog for quick delivery.

When Infantryman arrived in 1890, he was placed inside Memorial Hall and used as a drinking fountain. Water would pour forth from the lions’ heads in the pedestal into small cast iron bowls.  Quite a controversy erupted when a town resident reportedly walked off with the ladles, causing a brouhaha, “scores of people have gone to the fountain for a cool refreshing drink, only to find the dippers gone. The officers should keep a strict watch and if possible, catch the rascal,” the local paper reported.

Then, in 1894, the town decided to relocate the memorial statue and drinking fountain to the front lawn of Memorial Hall where he stood until attacked by vandals. A wonderful conservation effort by Canton resident, Ernie Ciccotelli pieced Infantryman back together, but he could not be moved outside. Relegated to a back hallway, Andreotti moved restoration off of his bucket list and onto active duty.

What has happened next is nothing short of a miracle in preservation. Part art and part science, the statue has been in Maryland for the past forty days in the care of very talented conservationists.  As the sculpture was unwrapped, the conditions were noted and paint removed. Plenty of items had been lost including the end of the bayonet, the thumb, the interior of the cape, a section of gun strap, and sections of the plinth and strap on the cap brim.

A rare glimpse inside Infantryman,
where a new stainless
steel skeleton takes shape. 
Overseeing the project is Mark Rabinowitz, the Executive Vice President of Conservation Solutions, Inc. the firm that is handling this project. “The best goal for public art is to serve the public need it was intended for.” Notes Rabinowitz, observing that the very essence of this statue is more than a memorial; it is “art.” Of the use of zinc, Rabinowitz puts forward the idea that “it is an interesting form of sculpture whereby the ideals which public art embody – nobility and memorial – were available to localities for a lower cost, leading to the best democratization of the values of public art.” 

David Espinosa and Bob Donahue
solder the cape, which
 conceals the interior armature.
And, when you think of Infantryman as art, he takes on additional meaning.A new stainless steel armature has been fabricated and has become the skeleton inside the figure. As for the missing items, it is here that the “brothers” have been called into action. In the Hurricane of 1938 Infantryman of the Oak Bluffs Soldiers and Sailors Memorial was toppled and severely damaged. In 2002 Conservation Solutions’ conservators fully restored the work to its original condition. So good was the work that the project received an award for excellence from Smithsonian Institute. Today, the same molds that were used for Oak Bluffs (and originally cast from the North Kingston, RI Infantryman) have come full circle to become castings for the scabbard and bayonet missing from our monument. In the case of Oak Bluffs, an actual 1859 Springfield bayonet was used to create a wood model and ultimately the zinc cast replacement. The same model was used again with permission of Oak Bluffs to bring our soldier back to condition.

Over several emails, Tony Andreotti has received updates for the past several weeks. The head, oddly detached, lies on a table and gets close attention and repair. The loose ammo pack becomes soldered to the body. Small losses have been filled with synthetic materials. And within the past few days Infantryman has been reassembled and coated with a system of acid etching primers and acrylics designed to mimic the bronze patina. Bronze powder filled paint has been followed by a coat of darker brown paint and rubbed back to age the statue. And finally, a coat of wax seals the system.

Within days, Infantryman will return to Canton, still a broken soldier – with wounds well covered, yet well cared for by a loving community and a caring Veteran’s Agent. This is why Andreotti ordered a new gravestone for a fallen Vietnam War veteran, and why he initiated the restoration of the Civil War Memorial – to make us remember the sacrifice of our soldiers. When asked if he fears that vandals may attack again, Andreotti merely shrugs and says, “I do not think so,” but in true military fashion he adds, “and if they do, we will put it back up again.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Lithic Journey

A large Normanskill-type stone spear or
knife point from the Late Archaic period
in the collection of the Canton Historical Society. 

As Joe Bagley speaks, his passion for archeology flows. Standing in front of an overflowing room, Bagley looks the part of an archeologist, rugged boots, tough pants, and a boyish smile. The audience hangs on his every word. This is the Friends of the Blue Hills’ 35th Anniversary Meeting, and the City of Boston Archeologist reveals the amazing history that is beneath our feet. In a word, his talk is about stewardship.

The Blue Hills Reservation is such an amazing place. As someone who has hiked hundreds of miles within its borders, I can never fail to marvel at this historical place in our own backyards. And, this is the perfect time of year to get out and walk on the same trails that man walked on more than 8000 years ago.

The Blue Hills were so named by early European explorers who, while sailing along the coastline, noticed the bluish hue on the slopes when viewed from a distance. The blue comes from the rocks that formed the geology of the hills 600 million years ago. It may be hard to believe but this site was formed as a result of a large volcano that has been worn down over these millions of years to be the site we know today.  And the blue hue of the rock tells a story that extends back almost ten thousand years ago when Native Americans created a bustling community on this land.

City of Boston, Archeologist,
Joseph Bagley conducting field research.
In his minds eye Bagley, like many of the archeologists who have come before him, can see the camps, the workshops, the quarry sites and the hunting grounds of a great people who were the first stewards of the land along the Neponset Valley. “Many of the trails we walk today are the exact same trails that have been used for thousands of years,” explains Bagley.

Today the trails are used for recreation, but thousands of years ago these were the paths used to commute between quarries to workshops and then onto hunting grounds. The rocks that crunch underfoot tell the story of not only geology of the Blue Hills but also the archeology. It is in the rocks that we start to see why this was the center of industry for early man.

Bagley tells of one “aha” moment. “There was a site that I had read about just south of Granite Links Golf Course, and while still a student with some time on my hands I took an afternoon treat and hiked to look for this area. Based on what I had read, I was not prepared for the scale, I mean you are looking for something and then you discover it is so large you are actually standing in it.”  Bagley says that the personal discovery “was mind blowing.” What he stumbled upon on the western side of the Blue Hill Reservation was the debris of a major prehistoric quarry.

Bagley was off the trail and climbing up the hill, expecting to see rocky outcrops – but instead there were terraces and the back was stone. “I was looking for the rock outcrop, and then I realized there were flakes everywhere. The rock was being dug from the un-weathered rock, which would make for stronger tools. The natives were taking the cobble out of the ground to create the rough shapes leaving behind mounds in the millions of waste products.” At the top of the hill is an old weathered cellar hole of a farmhouse, and the foundation was made up of the byproducts of stone tool making. Essentially the colonial farmer was unknowingly recycling - using waste from thousands of years ago.

What Bagley and other archeologists know is that the Blue Hills Reservation is a treasure worth studying and protecting to understand the tools used by earliest man. While the geology of the Blue Hills was studied as early as 1900, it took almost four decades later for archeologists to delve into the area. In the late 1930’s Harvard’s Peabody Museum began to turn it's attention toward the Blue Hills. Radiocarbon dating was just getting into the science and the archeology team knew that many of the lithic – or stone tool – artifacts were made from stone only found in the Blue Hill range. The Lithic stage was the earliest period of human occupation in the Americas, occurring during the Late Pleistocene period, to a time before 8,000 B.C. The process of flint knapping yields lots of debris. The term knapped is synonymous with "chipped" or "struck.” Throughout the Blue Hills you can find evidence of flaking, pecking, pounding, grinding, drilling, and incising rock in such a way that this area becomes a significant historical resource. 

Allan Lowry 
Canton is a hotbed of early archeological artifacts, and in the collection of the local historical society there are artifacts that include such things such as mortars also known as metates, pestles, grinding slabs, hammerstones, spear points and scrapers. For many people who claim to hunt for arrowheads, they are more likely to find spear points and knives as the bow and arrow was only developed about 1000 years ago. The tools that have been found are much older.  

And we have had local archeologists who have revealed our unique past. Allan Lowry, a much beloved Canton resident found much of what has been discovered beneath some of the most important sites in our town. Allan passed away a number of years ago, but Allan’s wife Elaine recalls how he started. “As a young couple we were raking leaves in the yard and I found a stone that looked like a hammer,” explains Lowry, “ I guess from that point on he was hooked. Each Sunday I would drop him off at a dig site and then I would go to church, he wasn't a church goer.” For Allan Lowry his religion was found deep in the ground and extended back over thousands of years.

This unchanged view across Ponkapoag Pond
is quite close to a Native site used for
perhaps 5000 years an autumn hunting camp. 
Lowry was responsible, in part, for excavating the Green Hill Site, now a protected location and part of the National Register of Historic Places. Highway construction once threatened this place, but today it is now part of the Blue Hills Reservation. The middle and late archaic site is located on the Milton Canton line and encompasses part of the Metropolitan District Commission’s purchase of 78.44 acres of Augustus Hemenway’s estate in 1940.

In 1883 Augustus Hemenway purchased several acres of the site from a family of horse fanciers whose stables then graced the neighborhood. By about 1900 Hemenway had purchased the remainder of the site and upon it situated this "South Farm.” A site report from 1980 writes, “The gentle slopes around the site’s kame hill, which had been used for occasional tillage prior to 1883, reverted back to grazing land. The Hemenway cow pasture was situated just east of the hill. On the site, partridge and quail were hunted.  On the hill itself, virtually treeless until about 40 years ago, strawberries could be picked in season amid scraggly undergrowth, which discouraged all but the most intrepid. Quite possibly the hill has been little disturbed by human activity since prehistoric times. In any case the present mixed pine hardwood cover resembles the hill’s prehistoric appearance.”  In the spring of 1966 more than 200 stone tools were found prior to local highway construction. The site was excavated in two periods, 1966-1972 and then again in 1972-1976.  The conclusion made through the amateur archeology was that this was a site likely used as an autumn campsite, offering easy access to the felsite quarries of the Blue Hills, and provided a manufacturing site for tools.

Bagley knows the importance of the Blue Hills Reservation and his voice wavers with emotion as describes the place as “a mecca of stone production.” Wampatuck Hill, just north of the reservoir, in particular is 353 feet of Rhyolite and largely a source for the raw materials of tool making. Yet another site near Ponkapoag Pond near the golf course yielded evidence of almost 5000 years of use by people of the early and middle late archaic periods. Taken in it’s totality, the Blue Hills Reservation in one fashion or another represents a human timespan starting at the Paleo-Indian Period, through the Archaic, Early and Middle Woodland Periods, and of course the Contact and Colonial Periods. We are talking 16,000 years of man’s use of the natural resources along the Neponset River.

Can we still learn from the Blue Hills? The answer according to Bagley is a definitive “yes.”  During the Middle Woodland Period (1000 - 3000 years ago) – trade routes exploded and goods moved from and between places as far away as Pennsylvania and Coxsackie, New York. We know this, because we have found tools made of stone that only came from these places. And then at 1000 years ago all trade stopped. The tools that are found from this period only come from Lynn or Saugus or the Blue Hills. For Bagley, there will always be questions, and fortunately we have the Blue Hill Reservation protecting the answers. As Bagley puts it, “this place is right, this place is good, our human instincts relate to these sites.” For more than 35 years the Friends of the Blue Hills have protected the paths and trails that have been travelled by ancient man. Next time you hike, take a look down and travel back to an ancient time and place.