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In Windsor, a former Mystic fixture could be removed from pedestal again

Windsor — Maj. John Mason, his right hand ever clutching his sheathed sword, could be forgiven for looking unsettled these days.

Hauled out of Mystic in 1995, Mason, or rather the state-owned bronze statue of him, soon could be moved for the second time in more than 130 years, targeted anew by people troubled by his role in the near-decimation of the Pequot tribe in the 1637 “Massacre at Mystic,” the climactic battle of the Pequot War, a seminal event in American history.

With the country rethinking its hero worship, some Windsor townspeople have called for the Mason figure to be removed from its prominent place in the middle of the town’s Palisado Green. The mayor has alerted the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the local historical society has begun considering options.

Last weekend, vandals splashed red paint on the statue and scrawled “BLM,” for Black Lives Matter, on its base.

In southeastern Connecticut, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, whose ancestors, along with those of the Eastern Pequot Tribe, fought then-Capt. John Mason’s English forces, expressed adamant support this week for the statue’s permanent removal from public space.

“Mason’s statue is a constant reminder of that bloody morning on May 26, 1637, when Pequot men, women, children and elderly were attacked and murdered while they slept; a genocidal attack meant to annihilate the Pequot nation,” the tribe said in a statement. “... Times are changing, and Americans are reckoning with our country’s troubled history. A growing number of people no longer support offensive symbols celebrating individuals who committed immoral and detestable acts against other groups of people or those that perpetuate systemic racism. While knowing our country’s history is essential, understanding its complexity via public displays of oppressive symbols is unnecessary and cruel.”

The Eastern Pequots also maintain the Mason statue should be removed, said the tribe’s chairwoman, Katherine Sebastian Dring.

Ironically, when activists persuaded the state to move the statue from Mystic, a drive that began in 1992, the Mashantuckets were among those who wanted to take it. The tribe, which had yet to open Foxwoods Resort Casino, was then planning a museum and had designs on a Mason exhibit, one that rather than glorify Mason would have presented the ways in which perceptions of him had changed.

Richard “Skip” Hayward, then the Mashantucket chairman, didn’t want the statue moved at all, recalled Kevin McBride, the UConn anthropology professor and former director of research for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center.

“He said, ‘If you move it, people will forget what happened,’” McBride said. “He couldn’t have been more right.”

Erected in 1889 at Pequot Avenue and Clift Street, near the site of the massacre, the statue symbolized the area’s connection with the past, a painful reminder though it was for some.

“Everybody on the hill knew what happened,” McBride said. “In 2008, when we went back to do a battlefield survey, people who had been there were upset the statue was gone. People who had moved in had no idea what had happened. It’s a cliché to say, ‘Leave it, contextualize it,’ but maybe that’s what you should do.”

It would take more than rewording a plaque to put Mason and the massacre in the proper context, McBride said. Changes in school curriculums would help, too.

“I don’t think he’s a hero to anybody,” McBride said of Mason. “But my view of him has changed. He was a product of his time, which is no excuse. He was following orders, which were to kill the men. ... Whether he intended to kill the women and children by sword, that was the result.”

Douglas Shipman, executive director of the Windsor Historical Society, said no decisions about the Mason statue have yet been made.

“The objection to the present location is that it’s a place of such prominence, a public place,” Shipman said. With Mason’s 9-foot-tall likeness set on three layers of stone and granite, "it’s towering, kind of menacing and hostile-looking,” he said.

Opponents of the statue’s display see it as symbol of white colonialism and racism.

Shipman said the historical society has not taken a public position on the statue’s fate but would prefer it be preserved, perhaps indoors or in a less-visible space outdoors. He said the statue might be more “palatable” in such a location and if combined with “interpretative panels” that could tell the full story of the Pequots’ encounters with the English.

Shipman has reached out to the tribes for input.

It’s a misconception that the Pequots had a unified position in regard to the statue’s move from Mystic to Windsor, a town Mason founded, Shipman said. Back in 1992, when Ronald “Lone Wolf” Jackson, an Eastern Pequot, originated the movement, he was not speaking for tribal government.

“He got people riled up, but he was only one voice,” Shipman said.

Marcus Mason Maronn, a Mason descendant who originally wanted the statue moved to the family’s namesake Masons Island in Stonington, was another. When the statue was rededicated in Windsor on June 26, 1996, he was a keynote speaker.

“Removing the monument from the Pequots’ sacred site was a gesture of respect, henceforth, providing an opportunity to attempt to heal an old wound,” he said, according to a transcript. “It was a serious wound and there will always be an ugly scar but hopefully the indignation will be easier to endure now.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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