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Statue's head back; restoration planned

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published March 25. 2010 4:00AM
Photo courtesy Norwich Police Department
The head of a statue stolen from Yantic Cemetery was reunited with other pieces of the statue Wednesday when Willimantic police brought the head to Norwich. A passerby discovered the head resting on a stone wall in Willimantic Tuesday.
Family concerned about returning it to grave site after theft

Norwich - The last remaining piece of a historic bronze statue stolen from the Yantic Cemetery and cut into pieces has been recovered, Norwich police said, and local historic preservation advocates are starting to plan how to repair the statue.

Willimantic Police Lt. Mary Beth Curtis said someone walking on an abandoned property found the head of the statue perched on a stone wall at 4 p.m. and reported it Tuesday. Willimantic police brought the piece to Norwich Wednesday afternoon, and there police confirmed that it was the final missing piece of the 120-year-old bronze statue stolen in February from the Sarah Osgood grave at Yantic Cemetery.

Police have made two arrests so far, and further arrests are anticipated, Norwich Police Detective Lt. Stephany Bakoulis said.

Police charged Sean P. McNee, 43, of 182 South Park St., Willimantic, with first-degree larceny, first-degree criminal mischief and desecration of a grave site; and Richard Chamberlain, 46, of 9 West Island Beach Road, Lebanon, with first-degree larceny. McNee is scheduled to appear in Norwich Superior Court again on March 29, while Chamberlain's next court date is April 6.

The statue was reported missing on Feb. 19 by city Public Works Department employees working at the cemetery. On Feb. 24 after seeing news reports about the theft, workers at Willimantic Waste Co. called Norwich police to report that two people brought in pieces of a bronze statue as scrap metal. The company placed the items aside on suspicion that they might have been stolen.

While local preservation officials and Osgood's descendants are anxious to launch an effort to restore the statue, Bakoulis said the pieces will remain in police custody as evidence in the case. He said it would be up to the court to decide when to release the pieces.

By state law, gravestones and grave site monuments belong to the families of descendants.

Janice Harrington, whose husband, Chris Harrington, is a direct descendant of Charles and Sarah Osgood, was thrilled police have recovered the statue's head. She thanked Norwich police for their efforts in the case.

Harrington said the family wants to have the statue restored and has talked to an attorney about possibly seeking restitution upon conviction of those charged with the theft.

But Harrington said the family also is very concerned about placing the statue again at Osgood's grave.

"We were devastated to learn that the statue was stolen," she said. "We're petrified that once we have it restored, we're afraid of theft again … It's like putting a priceless painting out there."

David Oat, cemetery preservation advocate, and Dale Plummer, Norwich city historian, hope to set up a committee to discuss improved oversight of the cemetery. The two also are trying to get the cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Oat said he has been contacted by one artist and one sculpture-restoration company offering to help restore the statue. He will meet with City Manager Alan Bergren next Tuesday to discuss cemetery oversight and a fundraising drive to restore the statue. Oat hopes to create a "Friends of Yantic Cemetery" group to help keep an eye on the cemetery.

A sign posted at the cemetery cites a 1987 City Council resolution that offers a $500 reward to anyone who provides information that leads to arrest and conviction of someone for vandalism in the cemetery. Oat said the city might have to make what could be the first payment in that offer soon to the Willimantic Waste employees who contacted Norwich police on Feb. 24.

c.bessette@theday.com

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