Published February 24. 2010 4:00AM Updated February 24. 2010 2:21PM
Norwich - Local historians, cemetery-preservation advocates and artists will add their efforts to a police investigation into the theft of a bronze statue at the historic Yantic Cemetery on Lafayette Street.
The statue depicted a life-size woman wearing a draping dress and veil kneeling on Sarah Larned Osgood's flat gravestone. She appeared to be reading the inscription on the stone: "Sarah Larned, Wife of Charles Osgood. Died September 4th 1881. Asleep in Jesus Blessed Sleep."
Charles Osgood was a wealthy businessman who served as mayor of Norwich and was one of the founders of Norwich Free Academy.
"They were definitely the elite," city historian Dale Plummer said of the Osgoods. "They were among the richest folks in Norwich."
The missing statue, which was hollow, was removed from the stone after attaching bolts were broken off. Dirt and debris that had collected for the past century beneath the statue were the only clues that something had been there until recently.
Local artist Colleen Tramontozzi said she noticed the statue was missing about two or three weeks ago during one of her frequent runs through the cemetery. She said she reasoned that a branch might have fallen on it and the city had removed it for repairs. But a few days ago, she said, she revisited the Osgood plot and realized that couldn't have happened.
Tramontozzi called local gravestone historian David Oat and told him what she had found. Oat in turn called Norwich police Monday and was told the statue had been reported stolen Friday. City Public Works Director Joseph Loyacano said tire tracks indicated that someone likely had driven to the site near the rear of the cemetery before hauling the statue away.
Norwich police Detective Michael McVicker declined Tuesday to discuss details of an investigation into the theft.
Vivian Zoe, curator at Slater Museum, said the statue likely is the work of prominent bronze sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Zoe has contacted the Gaudens museum in New Hampshire to try to confirm her theory and to spread the word of the statue's theft. She said the owner of the Liverant antique store in Colchester has offered to alert the antique-collecting world.
Oat and Plummer also are contacting historical societies, historic cemetery associations and auction companies to be on the lookout for the statue.
Tramontozzi is creating a Facebook page with photos and the two paintings she had done of the statue. She smiled when recalling how she was drawn to the statue on her first run through the Yantic Cemetery.
"She scared the crap out of me," she said. "I went over to see her, and thought, 'Oh my God, she's beautiful.' "
The statue was a prominent feature in a large circular plot containing Osgood family graves. A tall Egyptian-style obelisk stands at the center of the circle. Charles Osgood, who died March 18, 1881, and is buried next to his wife, was a prominent physician and druggist, a manufacturer and wholesaler of pharmaceuticals.
Plummer, the city historian, said he has found little information about Sarah Larned Osgood, except that she was "highly esteemed in the circles in which she moved," according to her brief obituary. She was a member of the Christ Episcopal Church, which would have been a short walk from the Osgood estate on lower Cedar Street.
The theft is part of a chronic problem of vandalism and theft in the city's historic cemeteries. The Yantic Cemetery has huge wrought-iron gates at its main entrance, with wheels that run along a track to close the gate. On Tuesday, a melting but pristine snow bank standing against one of the gates showed its disuse.
Loyacano said closing cemetery gates at night and on weekends would cost overtime money his budget doesn't have. He said doubted it would be much of a deterrent, anyway.
"I don't know what the solution is," Loyacano said. "I don't know whether people are doing it for money or just vandalism."