Vandalism at 54th Memorial saddens Civil War re-enactors
City workers will begin the job of cleaning the Robert Gould Shaw 54th Massachusetts memorial this afternoon. The historic stone and bronze relief monument, which sits across from the State House, was doused in yellow paint yesterday in a bizarre and brazen act of vandalism.
A 38 year-old Quincy woman allegedly splashed a bucket of bright yellow paint on the landmark on Tuesday afternoon as a family tourists, who were also hit with the paint, watched in disbelief. Park rangers quickly detained Rosemine Occean, who was later arrested by Boston Police and charged with malicious destruction of property. Occean was ordered to undergo an immediate mental health evaluation today at a hearing in Boston Municipal Court.
Jacqueline Goddard, a spokesperson for the city of Boston’s Parks Department that owns the monument, said that officials decided to let the paint dry overnight before attempting to remove the stains.
“The paint that was thrown on the bronze and stone is a laytex paint, so we have to wait for it to dry. That makes it easier to remove it. We anticipated it would be dry by now- [around 2 p.m. Wednesday].”
Goddard says that workers from the Parks Department will begin the job today and expect to complete the clean-up by tomorrow morning. [Goddard later clarified that the Friends of the Public Garden will pay for the clean-up under the supervision of an expert art conservator.] She said they expect that the bronze will be relatively easy to clean and that the stone work may take more labor and time.
According to the Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley’s office, Occean stated that the sculpture was “an improper depiction of history.”
But, according to Lt. Benny White, that could not be further from the truth. White is a Mattapan resident who helped to found the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, Company A, a group of re-enactors who help bring the “Glory Regiment” to life throughout the year. White and the 30-plus members of the Hyde Park-based organization are frequent visitors to the monument, which was dedicated in 1897.
“It’s personal. To me, it’s more than just a statue. It represents more than 200,000 men who fought in the Civil War.”
White says that the monument was originally intended to memorialize the heroism and sacrifice of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the regiment’s leader who was killed in action — alongside many of his men— during an attack on Ft. Wagner , S.C. in July 1863. But Shaw’s family, who were staunch abolitionists and leading Bostonians in their day, balked at such a treatment. They insisted that famed sculptor Augusts Saint-Gaudens incorporate the soliders into the memorial as well.
“If you look at the faces, Saint Gaudens took 13 years to painstakingly put the faces together. Each man on that monument is an actual character,” says White, who hopes that the vandal is educated about the real history behind the monument.
“I think I feel a little sad for her because she may not know what the monument really stands for,” White said. “I won’t judge her, that’s not my place. But I would like to see that person get some kind of a training course about what these men went through during the Civil War.”
White and other volunteers from the 54th can often be found at the memorial to explain its history and significance to tourists, who flock to its prime location on the Freedom Trail. White says that the bronze relief sculpture that is the centerpiece of the memorial was recently cleaned at some expense. He’s confident that it will be fully cleaned in the days to come.
“This honors more than just the men of the 54th. It’s for all of the 30,000 African-American men who gave their lives in the Civil War.”
White said that the act of vandalism was the chief topic of conversation today among the 60-Plus Veterans, a group of African-American veterans who gather monthly in Mattapan Square.
"Everyone is very upset," said White.