Historic bronze statue returns to Norwich

Norwich public works employee Rob Spielvogel gives hand signals to Parks and Cemeteries Crew Leader Ray Thompson, driving fork lift and not in photo, as they unload the restored bronze statue of a kneeling woman at a public works garage Friday, Feb. 22, 2013.
Norwich public works employee Rob Spielvogel gives hand signals to Parks and Cemeteries Crew Leader Ray Thompson, driving fork lift and not in photo, as they unload the restored bronze statue of a kneeling woman at a public works garage Friday, Feb. 22, 2013. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Norwich — The majestic bronze statue that had graced the grave of Sarah Osgood for nearly 130 years before it was stolen and cut up for scrap returned to Norwich Friday and soon will be secured in its proper place in the Yantic cemetery.

The meticulously restored statue of a woman kneeling — perhaps in prayer — wearing a flowing dress arrived in the back of a pickup truck driven by Recreation Department Maintenance Supervisor Tom Dougherty. City Purchasing Agent William Block, who oversaw payment for the $34,000 project by New England Sculpture Services in Chelsea, Mass., accompanied him.

"Isn't that something?" Block said as the tarp and wrapping were removed from the statue perched on its temporary wooden pallet. "When I was there with those people, I felt I was in the presence of genius."

The statue was discovered missing from Sarah Osgood's flat gravestone in the Yantic Cemetery on Feb. 19, 2010. After seeing news accounts of the theft and old photos of the statue, workers at Willimantic Waste Co. notified police they had purchased some of the pieces. They kept them in reserve out of suspicion that they might have been stolen. Police arrested two men in connection with the theft.

The head was recovered perched on a stone wall in Willimantic sometime later.

With all pieces in hand, city officials launched the restoration effort, paid for with money from the city's Cemetery Trust Fund, an account that covers repairs and cemetery maintenance.

Block said bronze sculpture artist Barbara Mangum of Sculpture and Decorative Arts did the restoration work, which he called "absolutely fabulous."

Dougherty, a 29-year city employee, said Friday's trip to the sculpture foundry was "an experience of a lifetime." He and Block received a tour of the facility and an overview of how the restoration was performed — a difficult job since the thieves used a rough saw to cut the statue in pieces, leaving jagged gaps in the seams. The holes were soldered and the metal matched carefully to the green hue of the aged statue.

"You can tell these people really loved this statue," Dougherty said. "They hated to see it go."

Public Works Director Barry Ellison said the statue will be restored to Sarah Osgood's grave as soon as the weather allows for the work. Old photos showed the statue positioned over Osgood's grave as if the woman were reading the inscription on the stone: "Sarah Larned, Wife of Charles Osgood. Died September 4th 1881. Asleep in Jesus Blessed Sleep."

The statue was a striking showpiece in the historic 19th century cemetery that houses graves of some of the most noted city residents. A cast iron spiked fence that had surrounded the Osgood plot was removed — perhaps for scrap — many years ago. But that, too, has been restored, Block said, and will give Osgood's statue a bit more protection.

Until the statue is restored to the grave and secured in place, Ellison said it will be stored in an undisclosed location.

c.bessette@theday.com

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