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.”

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