Civil War Gen. Benjamin Butler Comes Alive in Lowell Salute
LOWELL -- A crowd at the Hildreth Family Cemetery on Saturday watched as Civil War Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler came to life through Richard Scott. Dressed in a dark blue uniform that consisted of a frock coat with yellow epaulettes, Scott paced by the site where Butler, a prominent Lowellian, was buried.
“It is good to remember those who have fallen in service to the country and those who have passed away,” Scott, of Chelmsford, said. “Because, if we forget our history, then we forget that anyone ever existed.”
Scott’s words as Butler were just one piece of an overall celebration of the 200th anniversary of Butler’s birth, which is Monday. The festivities were backed by Lowell High School, UMass Lowell’s History Department, the Lowell Historical Society and the Lowell National Historical Park.
Born in Deerfield, N.H. on Nov. 5, 1818, Butler later moved to Lowell and graduated from Lowell High School in 1831 and went on to become an important figure in both the city and American history. In addition to being a Civil War general, Butler was a U.S. congressman for Massachusetts and a defender of civil rights, especially of African-Americans. He died in 1893.
The annual opening on Saturday of the private Hildreth Cemetery site was the first event celebration. There was also an exhibit at the Mogan Cultural Center with items from Butler’s life and a program held later at Lowell High School’s Burgoyne Theater in the Freshman Academy with speakers, followed by a reception with a birthday cake for Butler. On Sunday, a “Conversation with Benjamin Butler” was scheduled at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum in Lowell.
“I think it’s great with the family here,” Scott said early Saturday afternoon before slipping into the historic role. “I have a lot of respect for them, that they’re keeping his memory alive. I think Butler was really a very pivotal figure in 19th century America. He was a very successful businessman and lawyer ... he had a great, full life.”
Priscilla French, one of several Butler descendants at the private cemetery visit, thanked those who donated funds for the restoration of a sculpture by Bela Lyon Pratt that adorns Butler’s grave. The sculpture features two women in draped gowns and a sword between them. French said Butler was her third great-grandfather and that she and her cousin, Oakes Plimpton, organized the celebration of Butler’s 200th birthday by working on the restoration project, the results of which were unveiled Saturday.
“I’m thrilled to have so much interest in taking care of our ancestors’ graves here at this private cemetery, and I also led the family fundraising so that we could pay for the sculptor for this restoration and he did an absolutely magnificent job,” French said later. “I’m thrilled that we had 29 donors and that so many of them were able to come out today.”
Jeffrey P. Buccacio, the Canton-based sculptor commissioned for the restoration work on the Bela Lyon Pratt sculpture, also spoke at Saturday’s event. He shared details of the restoration process, which took four days with some more work left to do.
“The first thing I noticed was that there was a masterpiece here that was in need of some care,” Buccacio told the crowd who by then had snapped many photos of the looming sculpture. “When we arrived, it was covered with green copper sulfates and so we started the process of removing all of those layers.”
Larry Paul, a history enthusiast from Amesbury, has been following Butler’s story for a little over a decade. He was among many who is drawn to Butler.
“It’s like peeling back the onion,” Paul said. “You start realizing how many things this guy’s been involved in.”
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.