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Waterford — In the height of the midday heat Thursday, a group of men worked to raise the obelisk that had fallen off a memorial for Edwin Church, a 19th century whaling captain, at Williams and Church Cemetery.
The granite obelisk was knocked off its pedestal during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, when a tree snapped and hit it.
Patrick Crotty lives next door to the cemetery and noticed the day after the storm that the obelisk had fallen. He said four big trees in the cemetery property had blown over during the storm. He contacted the town clerk, who is also the town historian, for ideas.
Volunteers challenged themselves to raise the obelisk without power equipment, as it most likely was when it was first constructed. They made an exception for a few power tools to drill in screws while building a large wooden A-frame they used for the project.
“We understood the tradition of the era, and instead of hydraulics, we did it the old-fashioned way, with engineering, manpower, prayers and luck,” said Paul Cushing of Waterford.
Cushing and his brother Chris, of Old Lyme, accepted the challenge, along with a group of friends who are also responsible for building the floats in the annual East Lyme Light Parade. Ian and Eugene McNatt, of Oakdale, Matt Lambert of Gales Ferry, Aaron Pauley of Niantic and Chad Buhler of Berlin also helped Thursday afternoon.
According to research on Church completed by town historian Robert Nye, Church was born in Montville on Nov. 11, 1827, and went to sea at an early age. The 1850 census lists his occupation as a mariner. He became captain of the three-masted whaling ship the Alert and in 1862 sailed from New London bound for islands in the southern Indian Ocean.
After contracting yellow fever on the island of Brava in Cape Verde, he died and was buried at sea in September 1868, leaving behind his wife and three children.
Although it’s unclear when the monument was constructed, Nye guessed that Church’s late wife Sarah was responsible. “That or his children,” he said.
Nye said he was thankful that the obelisk didn’t break into pieces when it fell off the monument.
Some of the eventual seven-member crew began arriving at the Lathrop Road cemetery around 1:30 p.m. Thursday and proceeded to build the A-frame around the monument, raise the frame, then work to lift the obelisk slightly off the ground, enough to tie support straps around it.
At 5:19 p.m., the obelisk was upright.
“This is quite a project. I’ve done a very similar process with smaller structures, but none of this shape,” John O’Neill, a member of the town’s Historic Properties Commission, said. “The shape is what makes it hard to deal with. There’s no good way to hold onto that thing.”
By 6:40 p.m., the obelisk had been hoisted up by chains and was resting on top of the monument.
There was a slight pause before cheers erupted and high-fives were shared.
“I was holding my breath,” Chris Cushing said, “When you have a ton of granite in the air, I don’t know. I’m just glad it’s up.”