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The lady shall return

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published October 15. 2011 4:00AM
Statue stolen from Norwich cemetery to be repaired and replaced atop tomb

Norwich - The Sarah Osgood statue will be put back together again - no thanks to any king's men or horses, but to a decades-old cemetery trust fund and the skills of historic bronze statue restoration experts in Massachusetts.

The bronze statue depicted a life-size woman wearing a draping dress and veil and 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."

The statue was discovered missing on Feb. 19, 2010. A few days later, after news accounts of the theft, employees at the Willimantic Waste Co. contacted Norwich police and said they had received most pieces of the cut-up statue and set them aside, suspecting they'd been stolen. The head was found a month later in a yard in Willimantic.

Police charged Sean P. McNee, 43, of 182 South Park St., Willimantic, with first-degree larceny, first-degree criminal mischief and desecration of a gravesite. Richard Chamberlain, 46, of 9 West Island Beach Road, Lebanon, was charged with first-degree larceny.

With all pieces in hand, Norwich city officials had hoped eventually to restore the statue. That time is now, said city Purchasing Agent William Block and city Treasurer Brian Curtin. The two will present their plan to the City Council at 7:30 p.m. Monday, but the project requires no city funding or action.

Curtin said the city has custody of a $1.4 million Cemetery Trust Fund that dates back decades, when various small and financially strapped private cemetery associations turned over their grounds and funds to the city in perpetuity. The city draws down interest quarterly and uses the money for repairs and to reimburse the city Public Works Department for some cemetery maintenance.

"Certainly it's a fund that's usable for this," Curtin said. "We're considering restoring the fence around the Osgood plot as well."

The fence was removed years ago, perhaps also for scrap metal.

Block asked Slater Memorial Museum Director Vivian Zoe for the names of restoration firms. Block contacted award-winning restoration expert Barbara Mangum, owner of Sculpture and Decorative Arts Conservation Services in Somerville, Mass. Mangum, in turn, made arrangements with New England Sculpture Services of Chelsea, Mass., to reassemble the Sarah Osgood statue.

The project will cost about $22,000 and take about six months, Block said.

The Public Works Department is storing the statue. Public Works Director Barry Ellison said his crews will bring the statue pieces to Somerville and will bring the statue home once restoration is completed.

Ellison said his crews also will help bolt the statue back in its proper place atop Osgood's tomb.

Local cemetery historian David Oat, who is working to create the Friends of the Yantic Cemetery group to improve oversight of the Lafayette Street city landmark, takes frequent walks through the cemetery and works with city officials to repair past vandalism damage.

Several gravestones were reset and repaired during a recent gravestone workshop there.

City Historian Dale Plummer welcomed the restoration effort and said it comes at an opportune time; Plummer is writing the nomination report to have Yantic Cemetery placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The national register listing also would be timely, coming during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Plummer said the cemetery contains remains of nearly 400 Civil War soldiers and veterans. The cemetery was dedicated in 1844 and was still fairly new when the war started in 1861, he said.

"I'm delighted as city historian that the Sarah Osgood statue is going to be restored," Plummer said. "I think it's going to be a great job. I commend them for going to Vivian and getting the right experts to get the job done right."

c.bessette@theday.com

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