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STONINGTON, Maine — Before Annette Larrabee Jones graduated from Stonington High School in 1967, she and the other seniors went on a class trip to New York and Washington, D.C. One of the sites that the young Mainers saw held personal significance for her.
It was the John F. Kennedy memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Jones’ father, Keith Larrabee, had been one of the craftsmen who cut the blocks of granite from a quarry in Stonington, carved them into shape, then fitted them into place at the site that would be visited by millions of people in years to come.
“My father took a great deal of pride in doing that job,” she said in an interview on Wednesday.
Fifty years after Kennedy’s assassination, most of the Deer Isle and Stonington men who worked on the memorial are gone and the company, Deer Island Granite Corp., has long since folded. But the children and spouses of those involved with a commission that — for a moment — made Stonington world-famous, remember the project with both fondness and sadness.
“It was a very good feeling,” said Archie Pickering, who worked as a lobster fisherman in the mid-1960s when the stone bound for Arlington was being quarried.
“Of course, we made history,” he said.
The memorial was a $2 million project designed by architect John Carl Warnecke and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers between 1965 and 1966. According to a Boston Globe story from 1965, after being shown several stone samples, Jacqueline Kennedy selected the granite from a quarry on Crotch Island, just south of Stonington, for the memorial.
“That’s a big deal,” Jones said. “Because the lady had great taste.”
During construction of the memorial, the Crotch Island product made headlines across the country. The Stonington dateline appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe, among other publications that can be found at the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society. There is even a letter in the historical society’s files that references a story about the granite in a Brazilian newspaper.
Two kinds of Crotch Island granite were used in the memorial, according to multiple members of the McGuire family, whose predecessors owned and operated the quarry: Sherwood Pink and Deer Island Granite.
The gray Deer Island Granite was used in a low, smooth, curved wall that forms the border of an oval-shaped plaza. Engraved on the wall are seven phrases from Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address.
About 1,500 stones were used in the project, some weighing as much as 40 tons, according to newspaper stories from that time. Much of the carving and engraving was done at a facility in the Oceanville part of Stonington, before stones were transported by truck to Arlington. Kennedy’s body was moved from its initial burying place in Arlington to the new memorial site, which was opened to the public in 1967.
The stone cutters and quarry workers who were involved with the project were given small cubes of granite embedded with the Kennedy half dollar as a souvenir, recalls Larry Bartlett of Stonington.
Though three people who were interviewed for this article mentioned having those souvenirs at one time, none could remember where theirs had gone.
Crotch Island granite had been used previously in the construction of the George Washington Bridge in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, among other major projects, according to the Deer Isle Granite Museum’s website. In the late 19th and early 20th century, many coastal Maine towns saw a period of rapid growth and economic prosperity because of the granite industry.
In those early days, there was a settlement that sprung up around the multiple quarries on Crotch Island and attracted stone cutters from as far away as Italy.
But by the mid-1960s, when the Kennedy memorial commission was awarded, the Deer Island Granite Corp. was struggling financially. The use of steel and concrete in construction projects had replaced the need for granite.
In April 1966, the BDN reported that the company had taken out a $400,000 loan from the Area Redevelopment Administration the previous year.
“We thought that [the Kennedy commission] was going to get us out of the hole,” said Ann Durgin, a member of the McGuire family that owned and operated the quarry. “It did, but only temporarily.”
The Deer Island Granite Corp. folded in 1968, Durgin said. Today, the Rhode Island-based Georgia Stone Industry Inc. operates on Crotch Island, but on a smaller scale.
For Jones, the decline of the industry that supported her family coincided with a period of upheaval in the country as a whole.
“For me I think it was the end of an era. As far as I know, that was their last very prestigious job,” said Jones of the Kennedy memorial.
“We lost a lot,” she said. “We lost the president. And there was a loss of what seemed to be, at the time, a company that had always been there and employed many people and that was scary.”
She said, “It was like you were growing up and everything wasn’t going to be the same.”
Jones’ father built wooden lobster traps to support the family after the quarry closed.
For some, talking about the quarry’s history brings to mind more than just memories of a lost source of income.
Nancy Furrow believes her husband, Kenneth “Toot” Furrow, was the last living stonecutter who worked on the memorial. He died in May of this year at age 79.
Though the job at the quarry had been a good one, it was a health hazard. Furrow explained that at the time her husband worked there, no one knew that the cutters should be wearing masks, as they do today, to prevent them from inhaling granite dust.
“They called it stone cutter’s consumption,” she said. “The stone hardens up in your lungs. When they used to come home and cough, it would it be pure stone dust.”
She thinks inhaling stone dust may have contributed to her husband’s health problems, and eventually his death from a lung disease.
But in newspaper clippings from the time of the commission, a feeling of pride and hope of a revival is evident.
“This is a very good year for orders,” John McGuire, president of the Deer Island Granite Corp., was quoted saying in the BDN. “There’s a boom in granite. It’s coming back.”
A Boston Globe story from 1965 described a town that was excited about being closely involved with the memorial of the president, a New Englander who spent time in Maine.
In the article, one local stonecutter says, “We had a real link with him even before Jackie picked out our particular granite.
“It’s like we were doing something for a friend.”