Hale and Hearty: Committee polishes off Nathan Hale restoration project

From the New London Times


 

When
they learned the Nathan Hale statue in Williams Park was missing so
many letters the message on its base was not legible, the Whaling City
Restoration Committee decided restoring it was their only option.

“People
would pick the letters off throughout the years,” Dennis O’Connor, a
member of the WCRC, said. “At the time we started there were maybe 47
letters missing.”

The
WCRC, which previously restored the Wyland Whale Wall on Eugene O’Neill
Drive, started work to restore the statue in May 2007.

“We started looking around and seeing what else we could do so people could enjoy it again,” O’Connor said.

They
hoped for a quick and easy restoration. O’Connor’s wife, Suzanne, was
able to secure a $5,000 grant from the Frank Louis Palmer Fund. The
smooth sailing ended there, however.

“What we thought would be a six-month project wasn’t,” O’Connor noted. O’Connor,
who did the majority of the restoration work, hit several road blocks
when trying to find a font to match the antique letters on the statue’s
base. The font was so old, he was unable to locate a venue offering
lettering in that style.

“We
sent [pieces] to various places throughout the country,” he said.
“Everytime we sent them a piece, they would not have anything remotely
like it.”

O’Connor traveled across the country, searching for somewhere that would be able to recreate the letters on the statue.

“In
the end, after a year and a half of running to Texas and California, I
ended up learning to mold them myself,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor
used an acrylic material to form molds of the remaining letters on the
statue. He kneeded the dough-like material and then pressed it to the
letter he needed to mold. The process takes approximately 30 minutes
per letter.

“I would go down there every night after work and mold a few letters,” he said.

During
this process, O’Connor contacted Sharon Hertzler, owner of Mystic River
Foundry. She was able to make bronze castings of the molds that
O’Connor had created.

O’Connor
learned how to age the letters so they would appear as old as the ones
still present on the statue. Finally, after two years of hard work and
research, it was completely restored, just in time for Hale’s birthday.

The WCRC has already started its next project, which is restoring the pedestrian entrance to Ocean Beach. “Our
goal is to find things that have been neglected and try to bring some
betterment back to the public so they can enjoy these things,” O’Connor
said. “A core group of people can make a big difference.”

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