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New London's Columbus statue to remain in storage

New London — On the morning of June 12, a flatbed trailer driven by an employee from Stratford-based William B. Meyer Inc. rolled into the city on a mission.

The Christopher Columbus statue at the corner of Bank and Blinman streets had become a target for vandalism and a rallying point for protests over police brutality and calls for racial justice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.

Columbus was hoisted onto the flatbed and exited the city with little fanfare. The City Council has since vowed that the statue will not return to city property.

Documents recently obtained by The Day show the city paid William B. Meyer $14,500 for the removal of the statue and additionally signed a contract for $86.40 per month for storage. The money, Mayor Michael Passero said, was pulled from an existing line item in the finance department and therefore did not need an emergency appropriation from the City Council.

There’s still a bit of mystery about where the statue of the 15th century explorer, now known to have committed atrocities and engaged in the slave trade, now resides.

Ted Kennedy, the vice president for sales at Meyer, would only say that the statue is in one of its five highly secured, climate-controlled storage facilities. The company has 1 million square feet of such space in the state. Kennedy declined to share specifics in order to preserve client confidentiality.

The removal of the statue under such circumstances may be a first for the 105-year-old business, which specializes in handling, relocation and storage.

“We have often relocated or installed statues and artwork and/or placed them into storage but, to my knowledge, we have never been asked to support the need for removal of a statue due to civil unrest,” Kennedy said in an email exchange.

He believes it’s the only Columbus statue currently in storage.

Passero, who orchestrated the statue’s removal, said he obtained the name of the company through the Public Works Department and moved quickly. His plan at the time was to protect the statue, even as ones in Boston and other parts of the country were being knocked down or damaged.

“I started to think, 'It’s just a matter of time,'” Passero said. “'They’re going to damage this further. Can we get it out quickly and quietly?' Over the next couple of days, we put together a contract to remove the statue.”

“From a public safety perspective, I didn’t want any violence over this statue. As a practical issue, I did not believe there was any way to protect it in its current location. I didn’t want it to get to that point,” he said.

Passero explained his position to the City Council, which at its next meeting voted unanimously to remove the statue and prohibit it from being displayed on public property.

Councilor Curtis Goodwin said at the time he would like to remove the name Columbus Square. He said this week there is ongoing discussion about changing the name of the area and the City Council will look for consensus on a new name but prefers “definitely something that creates a sense of unity,” considering its very central location in the city.

It wouldn’t be the first name change. The area was named Tyler Square in 1920 after Col. Augustus Tyler, who commanded the 3rd Connecticut Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish-American War.

The statue of Columbus was gifted to the city by the local Italian-American community in 1928. By 1937, the area was renamed Columbus Square.

Just how long the statue will remain in storage is unknown.

“Now is not the time to make any determination about the future of the statue,” Passero said.

g.smith@theday.com

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