ORONO, Maine — After one out of every 10 able-bodied men in town volunteered to serve in the Civil War and 39 didn’t return home, town leaders erected a Civil War monument featuring a statue of a soldier holding a musket so that future generations would never forget the men’s sacrifice.
Over the next 100-plus years, weather and human culprits damaged the monument. The gun was stolen, the statue’s head cracked and the 12-foot base it stood atop buckled. After it was deemed too unsafe to be on public display, the memorial statue was put into storage six years ago. But efforts are underway to return it to its rightful post.
“We’re trying to breathe enough life back into him so he can stand again,” Peter Crockett of Argyle, an artist and pipe welder hired by the Orono Historical Society to refurbish the statue, said last week.
The local historical society has already paid to repair a split in the head of the life-sized metallic zinc statue that wears a Civil War uniform cap and has a militia overcoat draped over its right shoulder.
The monument was dedicated in 1890 at a downtown location known later by locals as Monument Square, but it was moved over the years as the town changed and developed, until finally finding a home in Webster Park. It was placed in storage in 2008.
“I’m building a new stainless steel baseplate. … I am carving a pattern to cast a replacement musket that is missing due to vandalism sometime in the last 100 years or so,” Crockett said.
The artist also had to carve a cast for a new bayonet, which hangs on the soldier’s left side, because the tip is missing.
Creating art with metal has always been a hobby for Crockett, and it became a passion after he was hired in 1985 by South Freeport artist Robert Richmond to fabricate the Maine Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“I’m a pipe welder by trade, so I’m used to working with different types of metal, but zinc is a different animal,” Crockett said, referring to the statue.
The eight-foot square, seven-segment “stepped” pedestal, which is 12 feet tall, is also mostly made of metallic zinc. The damaged monument base, estimated to weigh between 300 and 400 pounds, has been wrapped in plastic to protect it from the elements. It remains at Webster Park awaiting repair.
“The very top segment is severely damaged, and the very bottom segment is almost as bad,” said Crockett, who owns Argyle Iron Works.
The historical society has told Crockett to focus on “the soldier” portion of the memorial and not to exceed $10,000 worth of work, which leaves decisions about the base still up in the air, the artist said. Reproducing the entire base in zinc would cost a tremendous amount of money, so several other options are on the table since local fundraising is paying for the project, Crockett said.
“Reproducing the top segment alone could be anywhere between $20,000 and $50,000,” he said, of the pyramid shaped base. “So one proposal is to eliminate the bottom and top segments.”
Other options include using different construction materials for the base. Another idea being kicked around is melting down the zinc from the pedestal and creating foot tall replicas of “the soldier” that could be sold or auctioned off for revenue, the Argyle artist said.
Approximately 250 Orono men, between 1861 and 1864, joined the ranks of 27 different Civil War units from Maine that fought at Gettysburg, Bull Run and other battles, according to the Orono Historical Society.
The local historical society is researching Orono’s role in the historic war and plans to present a spring lecture with stories of the town’s soldiers and citizens to mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War in 2015.
Crockett said he hopes the Civil War monument also will be rededicated during the sesquicentennial commemoration.
“I have a great deal of pride to offer my homage to what these people at that time had gone through to protect our freedoms,” he said.
Those interested in making a contribution toward the restoration can contact or send a check to Orono Historical Society, PO Box 234, Orono, ME 04473.
BDN columnist Roxanne Saucier contributed to this story.