West Hartford’s American School for the Deaf
restoring monument kept in storage 100 years
By Emily Brindley
Hartford Courant | Dec 26, 2019 | 6:00 AM | West Hartford
This lithograph, circa 1855, depicts the obelisk-like monument to Thomas Gallaudet that
sat at the American School for the Deaf's Hartford campus. (Library of Congress)
The American School for the Deaf in West Hartford has begun to restore a 165-year-old monument that has been out of the public eye for nearly 100 years.
School staff said it will cost $180,000 to $200,000 to restore the obelisk-like monument, which honors the school’s founder Thomas Gallaudet. The school, which was originally located in Hartford, was the first permanent school for the deaf in North America, making Gallaudet something of a legend.
The school hopes to place the restored monument on its front lawn by early September.
It will be a homecoming a full century in the making.
The monument was first placed on the school’s campus in 1854, three years after Gallaudet’s death. The obelisk was a way for the deaf community to memorialize Gaulladet, and the community took that task both seriously and personally.
Jean Linderman, who’s in charge of the school’s archives, said the obelisk was funded and created solely by the deaf community.
“This had to be a personal tribute to Thomas Gallaudet, but only from the deaf," Linderman said. “Even though monies were offered for the monument from hearing people, the deaf would not accept it.”
But when the historic school moved its campus from Hartford to West Hartford between 1919 and 1921, the obelisk disappeared.
Urban legend has it that the monument broke apart in the move, Linderman said. But urban legend has it wrong.
“It was brittle, it was damaged," she said. “It wasn’t broken."
When the monument was dismantled at the old Hartford campus, Linderman said, most of it was cast aside.
School personnel at the time had decided that the obelisk wasn’t the best way to honor the school’s founder. They thought it looked too much like a grave marker.
They directed stone workers to save chunks of the monument to incorporate into the new campus, but the rest of it seemed unwanted.
But a stone worker named Allen Brown, who was working on the old Hartford campus, recognized the monument’s quality. The school allowed him to store the large, marble sections of the dismantled monument in his West Hartford barn.
Only a couple of years passed before the school came knocking on Brown’s door — but it wasn’t to save the obelisk.
In the mid-1920s, the school had decided to replace the monument with a bronze statue of Gallaudet himself, Linderman said.
But for that, the school needed money.
So they trekked out to the dismantled monument and broke off pieces of it. They sold more than 600 stone bits for $1 each, to fund the obelisk’s replacement.
And then, decades passed.
When the school, in the 1950s, finally decided to retrieve the monument, they found it chipped apart and didn’t know why, Linderman said.
“A lot of the pieces were missing and no one could figure out where were the missing pieces,” Linderman said.
The remnants of the obelisk were brought back to the school’s West Hartford campus, but many were left outside, exposed to the elements.
More years passed before alumni noticed the pieces and again wondered why so much of the monument was missing. It took a dive into the archives — a perfect job for Linderman — to figure out what had happened.
“It’s a sad story," Linderman said. The pieces "weren’t lost or mysteriously misplaced. We chipped them up and sold them.”
In between the moves and losses, school alumni have kicked around the idea of restoring the obelisk, Linderman said. But it never quite seemed to happen.
“Finally, we’re doing it,” she said.
Emily Brindley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Brindley covers West Hartford and the Farmington Valley, as well as breaking news, for the Hartford Courant. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in psychology and nonfiction writing, and was previously a town reporter at the Journal Inquirer.