CUTLER, Maine — Off the main road in Cutler — a windswept community on the Down East coast — in a cold warehouse that once was part of a U.S. Navy base, Adam Meyer dons his orange rubber pants, his face mask and ear protectors.
He begins to grind, using diamond plates to smooth and buff a 12,000-pound concrete oval, part of a memorial gift for the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., sight of a December 2012 school massacre where a gunman killed 20 first-grade pupils, and six staff and teachers before ending his own life.
Meyer’s base will hold a massive block of granite, pulled from a Sullivan quarry, that is being carved with each of the victims’ names and the saying “Forever in our Hearts.” Twenty fiber-optic lights will illuminate the children’s names.
“This is Maine’s gift to Sandy Hook,’’ Meyers said.
Peter Barresi, a volunteer firefighter and EMT with the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad, said Friday that his community “is overwhelmingly humbled by this gift from Maine.” Barresi was one of the first responders on the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School and his son is a first-grader there. “My son lost 10 of his friends and, as a Cub Scout leader, I lost two Scouts.”
Barresi said everyone involved with memorial planning in Newtown has been overwhelmed and busy since the tragedy. Newtown selectmen are expected to select a site for the Maine memorial later this month. Barresi said the gift has special meaning for him and many of his friends who often vacation and hunt in Maine. He said that once the memorial is completed, he will be driving to Maine to accompany it back to Newtown.
“We don’t even know how to say thank you,” he said.
Meyer, 33, has been creating the base for the memorial since Christmas, putting in as much as nine hours in a day.
“This is the biggest project and the most important project I will ever complete,” he said on a frigid day earlier this week. Inch-thick frost patterns decorate the inside of the workshop windows as Meyer wets the concrete, bends over and works. Slowly, surely, the colors of tiny Maine coast stones and bits of mussel shells begin to come through. If concrete can be beautiful, this oval is stunning, filled with the detritus of the Maine coast and embedded with 26 stainless steel angels. “Who cares what other projects I work on, compared to this?” he asks quietly. “I was compelled to do something.”
A cursory look at Newtown and Cutler show a Grand Canyon of disparity. Newtown was founded in 1705, has a population of 27,560, is 59 square miles in size, with 433 people per square mile. The median income is $101,937, and the town has 47 police officers. A majority of its residents leave the community each day for work in New York City and other surrounding cities.
Cutler was founded in 1826, has a population of 657 people, ecompasses 118 square miles, with 10 people per square mile. The median income is $39,789 and there is no police department. A majority of its workers head out of Cutler Harbor each day, harvesting lobsters and other seafood from the ocean.
But Meyer said the similarities between the two places bridge any gaps in demographics.
“We really are one and the same,” Meyer said. “Cutler is rich in family and love, just as Newtown is. We care deeply about our children and our families. You are not going to find a more American town than Cutler. Come on the Fourth of July and experience life the way it used to be. Go down to the wharf where hard work is still a priority.”
Cutler may be more than 350 miles away from Newtown, but Meyer said the people of that community are in a lot of Maine people’s thoughts and prayers.
“We may look very different but basically [the two towns] are the same. We are all people who care deeply. We in Maine feel like we all lost those children.”
And that is why Adam Meyer walks into that cold workshop each morning, drains the last of his morning coffee, and grinds concrete.
“This is a gift from my heart. Plain and simple,” he said.
Meyer, a Washington County native, has lived in Cutler since 2006. He and his wife own A2Z Variety Store on the old Navy base. A University of Maine graduate with a master’s degree, Meyer admits that life Down East hasn’t been easy. He partnered with others in rehabilitating former Navy housing into condominiums. He opened his store and started his own engineering firm. He felt his life had purpose and meaning.
Then the economy crashed. He lost his partnership, his engineering firm, and, eventually, his home.
But he never lost his grace and giving spirit.
“I’ve had a rough time, I’ll admit it,” Meyer said. “But through it all, I had my family. What does anything else matter if you have family?”
As he worked on the shell and concrete base, Meyer said he could not help but think about “those innocent children that never had a chance. I count my blessings, not my failings.”
Meyer volunteered to make the base after being asked to donate to the fund for the granite monument to the victims. Meyer is owner of Maine Coast Creations, an innovative business that crushes lobster, clam and mussel shells (waste from nearby Look’s Gourmet Foods) and — using an epoxy base — creates stunning countertops, tiles and decorative objects.
He teamed up with Rich Gray, 43, a seasonal resident of Steuben who was born and raised in Maine but winters in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“When I first heard of the tragedy, I was so sick to my stomach that I had to go lay down,” Gray, the single father of a 6-year-old girl, said this week. While resting, Gray said he had a vision of himself standing in front of a wall, and when he turned around, he saw thousands of people looking at the wall. “I know that sounds ridiculous, but I was moved to do this,” he said. “I’ve never been urged to do something like this in my life.”
Sullivan Granite Company donated the granite slab, Sargeant’s Construction donated the cement, Meyer is donating his time and Noah Mohr of Trenton donated the design work. A Connecticut truck driver who wished to remain anonymous has donated his time and truck to bring the memorial from Maine to Newtown. When the memorial leaves Cutler — likely in early March — several cars full of Newtown residents will be convoying with it.
“The most awesome thing is the support I’m getting from the people of Newtown,” Gray said. “Every day I’m getting emails and messages of gratitude.”
He said this is the only granite memorial that is being donated to Sandy Hook.
Funding to pay for materials, such as the fiber optics, continues to be a problem, Gray said. A Chinese auction and concert in Steuben raised about $2,000 but the project is already $3,000 in the hole, even though donations have been coming from every part of the world.
“I’ll probably have to take out a small loan to finish this,” Gray said.
A bank account has been established to accept donations and they can be mailed to Sandy Hook Elementary School Memorial, P.O. Box 912, Ellsworth. There is also a donation button on the project’s website, MaineLovesSandyHook.com. More information on the project can be found at Maine Coast Creations and Sandy Hook Elementary Memorial Facebook pages.
“Maine is just such a caring and loving state,” Gray said. “I’ve been around the world during my military service and I know firsthand that the people of Maine will give you the shirt off their back or their last dollar. They’ll come through for this memorial, I know it.”