Hartford’s Forgotten Sacrifice: Historical Society Seeks Help Restoring World War I Tribute

Sunday, February 15, 2015
Hartford — No one is quite certain how long the town’s World War I monument has sat dismantled in the basement of the Garipay House.

The original wooden monument, with names on cast-iron plates, might have been destroyed in a flood in its first location outside the Municipal Building, or it could have come down sometime in the 1960s. It could have been taken down during a construction project and then fallen apart, or it could have been knocked over in another natural disaster. No one knows for certain, and documentation has been difficult to come by.

The remaining pieces — including a cast-iron eagle and dozens of cast-iron names — have been stacked in piles in the basement of the Municipal Building, and then the Garipay House, home of the Hartford Historical Society, for years.

The only evidence of what the original memorial and its 278 names looked liked in its heyday are a pair of black-and-white photographs.

Now, with the 100th anniversary of America’s involvement in World War I approaching — the country formally entered the war on April 6, 1917 — the members of the Hartford Historical Society want to do something about it.

“I’m tired of looking at it sitting on the basement floor and I’m disturbed when we have veterans that come in and see it that way,” said Martha Knapp, museum director for the historical society.

Knapp, who’s been with the historical society for about five years, knows a thing or two about preserving historic objects. She worked at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish for nearly 25 years. Starting out as a curator, Knapp eventually became what she terms a “museum specialist,” because of the diversity of training she received. Knapp had been looking forward to her retirement in 2008, but it wasn’t what she expected. She turned her attention to the historical society, where she and her husband have been members since 2010.

“It’s really become my muse and passion later on in life,” Knapp said. “I really did not like retirement.”

At the Garipay House, Knapp worked to get the old bank books off the basement floor and organized on shelves. The loom that took up an entire room on the first floor is now set up the basement and in working order. Volunteers and workers have begun an online inventory process.

But the cast-iron names have continued to sit in stacks in the basement stairwell.

“They are so heavy,” Knapp said. “We would really like to move them to where their last place is.”

The project is daunting.

The members of the historical society need volunteers to help identify the people whose names were on the monument, Knapp said, and to figure out which names are missing. They need people with a knack for fundraising to come up with an as-yet-unknown amount of money to restore the monument, including a replacement for the original wooden backdrop. They need an artisan to replicate the remaining cast-iron eagle. And they need a committee to find a place to put it.

“I know that it can be done,” Knapp said, “but it’s going to take funding and more than just us old ladies working at the Garipay House. We’re keeping it all for someone who comes along.”

A Grandson’s Search

About six years ago, Joe Haggerman went looking for the World War I memorial at the Municipal Building.

“It wasn’t in what I call its usual spot,” said Haggerman, who spent part of his youth in White River Junction and left the area in 1968 to serve in the Navy, retiring after 24 years of service. He searched the property for the monument, where his grandfather’s name had been listed among the others who served, and went in the Municipal Building to ask about it.

“I couldn’t find anyone over there who knew what I was talking about,” Haggerman said.

He was directed to the historical society, where he found the monument, in pieces, in the basement. Haggerman’s grandfather was drafted for service in the First World War out of Bethel, but moved to White River Junction and worked at the VA.

“Because my grandparents lived in White River, I presume that’s why they put his name on it,” he said.

Haggerman expressed interest in having the monument restored, but, while he has family in the area and visits throughout the year, he makes his home in Virginia and it would be difficult to organize a fundraising campaign from a distance.

“It’s been 100 years and it’s sort of the equivalent of a Civil War memorial,” he said. “I just felt like it was a real shame that, after it being found, they couldn’t find any sponsors there to hold a fund drive.”

Knapp would like for veterans groups to get involved, to come to Garipay House, climb down the narrow basement stairs and see the names of other veterans in a pile.

“Sometimes that’s all it would take,” Knapp said. “They might not even know it’s here.”

278 Names

Information on the monument is hard to come by. Pat Stark, curator and archivist of the historical society, learned about the monument from former Hartford Town Manager Ralph Lehman.

“The pieces were put in the basement of the Municipal Building,” Stark said. “From time to time someone came looking for relatives’ names and if they found it, they were given it.”

The lack of documentation about each monument has made it difficult to attach dates to them. Stark said she thinks the World War I monument was destroyed before the World War II monument was erected in the 1960s. That monument, also outside the Municipal Building, was made mostly of wood and was subsequently destroyed.

It has also been difficult to determine exactly what the World War I monument was honoring. The 278 names — the total was determined by counting the names shown in the photographs — may be the names of Hartford’s war casualties, or the names of all those who served, or the names of those who served and later died.

“My father was a World War I vet and he was not on that memorial,” said Mary Ann Devins, genealogist for the historical society. “That’s why I kind of think it was just those who died in the war from Hartford. But I wouldn’t say that’s written in stone.”

But that doesn’t seem quite right, either.

“There does seem to be a lot of people” if the list included only casualties, Devins said. “Might’ve been people who had died at the time they did the monument.”

An avid history lover, Devins has spent a lot of time learning and documenting the history of Hartford. “It blows me away because I haven’t found much on Hartford and its connection to World War I at all,” Devins said. “I would like to know when (the monument) was erected and when it was taken down.”

Devins said she remembers when the monument stood in front of the Municipal Building. “It was large, very large,” she said. “I was a kid when that was up. I don’t honestly know when they took it down.”

Time has shown what happens to memories. As the years go on, and the memorial remains in the basement, more stories are lost.

“Mostly the younger people don’t seem to remember it very well,” Haggerman said. “But they wouldn’t. Nobody ever told them about it.”

That’s something the Hartford Historical Society is hoping to change.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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