Preservation group troubled with legislation removing statue
A preservation commission that oversees Connecticut’s historic state Capitol building is raising concerns about a provision tucked into the state budget that calls for a statue of the late Major John Mason, leader of the massacre of the Pequot Tribe, to be removed. They’re warning that other statues of controversial figures could be next.
Members of the State Capitol Preservation and Restoration Commission said they were not originally consulted about the decision to move the statue. They are asking top leaders of the General Assembly for more information about the decision and whether they can study the issue further, including holding a possible public hearing.
“I am still conflicted on this one. I go from, ‘Oh, my gosh, take that down, the guy is bad’ to, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t destroy all of history,’” said Barbara Gordon, a board member. “I think we need to hear more from (legislative leaders).”
Mason’s statue sits in one of 26 gothic niches located above entrances to the historic gold-domed structure that contain sculptures of once-famous Connecticut citizens.
“In reading all these files of all these other people, it’s not going to stop with this one thing because there’s a tremendous amount of information here about slave owners, slaveholders,” said Mary Finnegan, a commission member and retired clerk of the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, who questioned what the cost might be to relocate the statues.
Mason is known for leading a raid in 1637 on a settlement of Pequot Indians, which historians said killed more than 400 men, women and children. There have been efforts to remove his likeness elsewhere in Connecticut in recent years, including a 2-ton statue in Windsor that was first erected in 1889 in Groton but eventually relocated to Windsor in 1996. A member of the Pequot tribe had campaigned to have it removed from Groton because he said it glorified the killing of his ancestors.
Rodney Butler, chair of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, said it was a major victory for his tribe to have that language in the budget bill.
“Every single time I go into the building and meet with legislators or testify, I always reference that, ‘You know, it’s kind of ironic that I’m walking into this building with Mason’s statue on it,’” Butler said.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, included the language in the budget bill signed this week by Gov. Ned Lamont. There was some confusion among members of the state Capitol restoration committee, however, about the timeline for the removal of the statue and its relocation to the Old State House, which is used as a historic and education attraction. An earlier bill would have required the re-examination of all the statues on the Capitol grounds.
State Historian Walter Woodward, a member of the commission, raised concerns during a meeting on Thursday, saying he worries about making “judgments” based on projecting “present values into the past” when reassessing complicated historic figures like Mason.
“Not only is it a slippery slope, but … we lose what can be incredibly important milestone markers for our own future,” he said. “There were reasons the people of Connecticut stood up for him, just as there are reasons Native Americans find him a despicable human being. These lessons are important lessons.”