Hundreds of veterans’ memorial plaques were taken down and collecting dust in a basement for more than 50 years in Hartford.
But the recent rediscovery of the plaques is sparking an effort to restore the memorial they once decorated.
The year was 1926 – eight years after the end of World War I and Hartford was paying homage to the more than 200 area men who died in combat.
Hartford Courant headlines told the story of the opening of a memorial in Colt Park.
More than 200 plaques were posted in front of large elm trees to honor the warriors.
But by the late 1960s the memorial was dismantled when Dutch Elm Disease killed the trees.
The plaques were placed in the basement of an outdoor public works building at the park and wouldn’t been seen until the next century.
“The fact is they’ve been lost essentially for 50 plus years,” says Hartford history buff Greg Secord.
But half a century later, they were found. The plaques were spotted in the basement by an employee who notified Secord.
“It was really disheartening to see the plaques for the first time because they were literally dumped in a pile in a basement with a dirt floor. They’re cast-iron so they were all rusty,” says Secord.
About 180 plaques were uncovered in the basement, but newspaper clippings revealed Hartford had 207 World War I vets.
So Secord has made it his mission to replace the missing plaques and restore the rest. He’s partnering with area history organizations to fix what he considers a disgrace.
“Very, very disrespectful- dishonoring people that made the ultimate sacrifice,” says Secord.
It turns out it was the Rau-Locke American Legion Post 8 that helped establish the memorial way back in 1926.
Now, all these years later, the same American Legion post is partnering with the other groups to bring it back.
Rory Gale, owner of Hartford Prints on Pratt Street has agreed to create a display promoting the GoFundMe web page where Secord is collecting money for a new memorial.
“I think it’s great- this piece of Hartford history that was undiscovered and now we get to reveal it and to have a piece of that history here in our shop is just incredible,” says Gale.
Now in 2014, as we approach the 100-year anniversary of the start of World War I in July, Secord hopes to start a new memorial in the park where it should have been all along.
Using the Hartford Courant articles, Secord has a list of the 200 plus veterans, and so far, he has found two of their relatives, and they are honored to say the least.
“They were totally amazed that there were plaques – that there was a memorial and that in both cases, we reclaimed the plaques of their family members,” says Secord.
It costs $100 per plaque for restoration and $325 per plaque for replacement. Secord hopes to raise nearly $10,000 to replace and restore all of the plaques that were found or were missing.
To help out, click here to visit the GoFundMe page.
To view a complete list of the 207 veterans click here: http://go.foxct.com/1jP9YxD