Thursday, October 18, 2007

Help Save the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

It's hard to believe, but officials at Arlington National Cemetery plan to replace the original Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with a new replica solely because of repairable cosmetic imperfections. This 1932 monument is nationally significant and eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The 48-ton marble block has two nonstructural cracks which pose no threat to visitors or the historic structure. Surprisingly, federal administrators want the replica carved from new stone that experts agree will likely again crack along its grain just as marble does naturally when exposed to the elements. Repair and proper care of the Tomb (re-grouting the cracks and using only gentle cleaning methods instead of high-pressure power-washing) is possible and is the preferred method for fixing the existing cracks, as other marble monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial were repaired.

Stone preservation expert Mary Oehrlein explained this method of restoration to the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 13, 2007, saying, "The existing monument can easily be repaired, as was done 17 years ago, using conventional conservation methods to re-grout the cracks. Once repaired, the fault lines would be virtually invisible from the public viewing areas." (Read more of Ms. Oerhlein's comments to the committee staff here.)

Once the National Trust learned about the ill-considered replacement plan, we raised the alarm with Members of Congress and tried to consult with those who administer the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In response to our concerns and your advocacy efforts, the Senate adopted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (H.R. 1585) sponsored by Senator Akaka (D-HI) and cosponsored by Senator Webb (D-VA) that would delay any hasty action and require a report to be submitted to Congress on the plans for replacing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The bill is still being debated and awaits full passage in the upcoming weeks.

Although the Senate amendment is a tremendous step forwarded in helping to save the Tomb Monument, your help is needed now to weigh in with decision-makers to help save the memorial.

Contact John Metzler, superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery and ask him to repair rather than replace the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Make a donation to support this campaign.

© 2007 National Trust for Historic Preservation. http://www.nationaltrust.org

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rochester burial site official defies police order, faces charges

ROCHESTER — Michelle Smith says she was just doing her job when she refused a police officer's order to move her vehicle from a construction site on Wednesday afternoon and was arrested.

She claimed that construction crews in the Washington Street area had parked their bulldozers and were digging in a cemetery that is protected by the city and she wouldn't budge from the property.

Smith, the vice president of The Society for the Preservation of Rochester Burial Grounds, is facing misdemeanor charges of reckless operation, disorderly conduct and criminal trespass.

On Thursday, Police Chief David Dubois said it appears the arrest stems from how Smith conducted herself and not what she was trying to accomplish.

"They appear to be a result of behavior," Dubois said. "The officer forwarded the charges to the prosecutor and it will now be processed through the courts."

The piece of land Smith was protecting is a burial ground at the corner of Washington Street and Woodlawn Road. In December, the city confirmed the land was a burial ground after archaeologists from Independent Archaeological Consulting, LLC of Portsmouth discovered graves there.

Since then, the city has told construction crews working on the six-acre site owned by The Flatley Company of Massachusetts to not work in that area. However, Smith claims she saw construction crews working in the area on Wednesday afternoon. The cemetery site is across the street from a retail development project.

Smith says her husband was driving by the property at 3:30 p.m. and saw bulldozers parked on it and working in the area. He returned to their Janet Street home and told Smith. She called city officials and drove to the site.

She said she rolled down her window and spoke with a police officer working traffic control.

"I told him 'there's a cemetery there, you need to tell them to stop digging'," Smith said.

The officer said he didn't know of a cemetery, according to Smith. She pointed to the area and told the officer she was going to drive over there.

Smith parked her SUV just before a small blue flag that marks the beginning of the cemetery. She said there were nine such flags marking the area along with a wooden stake. She stood above the flag.

"I figured that was the only way to stop a bulldozer from coming back down towards the cemetery because they're not going to hit a car," Smith said.

The officer told Smith to move several times but she refused. He then gave her the ultimatum 'leave or be arrested,' according to Smith.

"I told him if you tell them to stop driving on the cemetery and stop digging it, I will move," she said. "He said no, so I said 'then I'm not moving."

Shortly after four police cruisers arrived, and Smith said she asked officers not to arrest her until officials from the city arrived. But Smith was taken to the Police Station and booked. She was released on $1,000 personal recognizance bail and had to pay a $30 bail fee.

On her way home, Smith said crews from Public Works were staking the area and putting up an orange snow fence around it.

"If there wasn't a cemetery there, then why was public works staking it off," she said.

The owner of the construction company, Severino Trucking, is out of town and was unable to be reached.

City Engineer Tom Willis said on Thursday afternoon he was aware of complaints about construction crews being near the site and spoke with the project manager.

"They're essentially going to stay away," Willis said. "They know about the location and are going to work around it."

Richard Longo, the president of The Society for the Preservation of Rochester Burial Grounds, wants the charges against Smith dropped.

"They arrested her for doing what she was supposed to be doing, protecting the graves," Longo said.

Longo said the society plans on placing a plaque on the site with the names of the 19 members of the French-Hussey family buried there.

Smith is scheduled to appear at Rochester District Court on May 21. She plans to represent herself.

"My goal is to protect that area and its history," she said. "The people buried there belong to somebody, they should be given the respect they deserve."

© 2007 Geo. J. Foster Company

Arrest of Rochester cemetery preservationist leads to more charges and Legal defense fund has been set up

Michelle Smith, Vice President of The Society for the Preservation of Rochester Burial Grounds, 45, of Rochester, New Hampshire, a self proclaimed preservationist, is facing charges of criminal trespass and disorderly conduct for refusing a police officer's order to move her vehicle from a burial site near a construction project had two new charges added during Smith's court appearance for trial at Rochester District Court on July 31. She now also faces a reckless conduct charge and a violation for disobeying a police officer. She entered a plea of not guilty to all charges. The cemetery site, at the corner of Washington Street and Woodlawn Road, is in the area of a retail development project owned by the Flatley Company of Massachusetts.

"Those are the charges we intended to bring forward all along," said Lt. Joseph Fricano, police prosecutor.

Smith was scheduled for trial on July 31 but her attorneys, Samdperil & Welsh of Exeter, asked for and were granted a continuance.

A new trial date has been set for October 10. Smith, was arrested on the afternoon of April 25 when Smith saw construction crews in the Washington Street area had parked their heavy equipment on and were digging in a cemetery that is protected by the city. Her arraignment of her original charges was in May.

The cemetery site, at the corner of Washington Street and Woodlawn Road, is in the area of a retail development project owned by the Flatley Company of Massachusetts.

In an effort to prevent further digging Smith drove to the site, rolled down her window and spoke with a police officer working traffic control. Smith said she told the officer that crews were digging at the burial site. The officer claimed no knowledge of a cemetery being located at that site.

When the officer refused to stop construction she pointed to the area of the cemetery and told the officer she was going to drive over there. She then parked her SUV just before a small blue flag that marks the beginning of the cemetery. She said there were nine such flags marking the area along with a wooden stake. She stood above one of the flags. "I figured that was the only way to stop the heavy equipment from coming back down towards the cemetery because they're not going to hit a car," Smith said.

"I told him if you tell them to stop driving on the cemetery and stop digging it, I will move," she said. "He said no, so I said 'then I'm not moving." Shortly after four police cruisers arrived, Smith said she asked officers not to arrest her until officials from the city arrived. The officers refused and Smith was taken to the Police Station and booked. She was released on $1,000 personal recognizance bail and had to pay a $30 bail fee. Within a half hour from her arrest and on her way home, an orange snow fence was put up around the site by the Rochester Public Work Crew and several days after that, the Attorney General got involved and had a metal fence put around not only the grave site but also the 25 foot boundary that is required by law and that fence still remains there. Smith says, "If there wasn't a cemetery there, then why was Public Works staking it off, and why is a fence still there?."

City Engineer Tom Willis said he was aware of complaints about construction crews being near the site and spoke with the project manager. "They're essentially going to stay away," Willis said. "They know about the location and are going to work around it."

The burial ground contains the remains of 19 members of the French-Hussey family. Independent Archaeological Consulting, LLC of Portsmouth discovered graves there in December 2006 and several newspaper articles were printed about the archaeological dig and its findings.

Richard Longo, the president of The Society for the Preservation of Rochester Burial Grounds, wants the charges against Smith dropped. "They arrested her for doing what she was supposed to be doing, protecting the graves," Longo said. Longo said the society plans on placing a plaque on the site with the names of the 19 members of the French-Hussey family buried there.

"My goal is to protect that area and its history," she said. "The people buried there belong to somebody, they should be given the respect they deserve."

"I was hoping for the charges to be dropped but I guess that isn't going to happen. In the meantime I have to pay for the expense of this and so does the city, This is going to get very expensive for both sides. This is money that could be better spent elsewhere." Smith said.

Smith doesn't want to comment about her case but did reference a fund being established at Northeast Credit Union by her friend Cyndy Lambert, to help pay for legal expenses. She said that any money that isn't used on her legal expenses would go toward cemeteries in the city because there are as many as 200 needing extensive repair.

Cyndy Lambert was contacted and said that anyone interested in donating may do so by sending a check in any amount to Northeast Credit Union, Michelle Smith's Legal Defense Fund, 200 Charles Steet, Rochester, NH 03867,

**Most of this information was taken from the articles written by Aaron Sanborn, Democrat Staff Writer and were published in the Foster's Daily Democrat of Dover, New Hampshire over the last four months and condensed into one article.*****

St. John's Church, Portsmouth

St. John's Church in Portsmouth is located on Bow Street, at the top of the hill overlooking the river. It's placement is rather majestic, which is fitting since it's the resting place of some of Portsmouth's "royalty".

Charles Brewster wrote of it in his Rambles, "Among the early cemeteries of Portsmouth was that of the St. John's churchyard. This was used as a cemetery some twenty years before the first interment was made in the old North Burying Ground. Within the walls of this Churchyard rest the remains of the principal and highest in rank, in their time, of the inhabitants of Portsmouth previous to the Revolution. Here are the remains of the Governors, Counsellors, and Secretaries of the Province of New Hampshire, in the colonial days -- for it was then in the Church of England that all felt obligated to worship who held an office under the Crown. So the Ground around the church was the place where they also, with the humblest citizens, mingled in one common dust, at death." Read the full ramble at http://seacoastnh.com/brewster/146.html.

The church itself was built in 1732 and was originally referred to as Queen's Chapel. The original building was destroyed in 1806 during one of the 3 great fires of Portsmouth. The current building was constructed in 1807. But after the Revolution, townspeople did away with all references to their former rulers and renamed to St. John's.

St. John's is also home to several artifacts, including a bell taken from the French at the Battle of Louisburg during the French and Indian War. The bell was in need of repair at one point so they took it to Paul Revere who recast it. It also houses a rare "Vinegar Bible" and one of the oldest Brattle organs in the country. The baptismal fount was captured from the French at Senegal by John Tufton Mason's regiment.

George Washington attended services there and Daniel Webster was a regular (and once a Portsmouth resident.)

The burying ground itself overlooks Bow Street, and its residents have some of the best views in town. There are about 100 marked graves with stones and 10 crypts built into the wall surrounding the church.

Some of the most prominent people of Portsmouth were buried here, including Royal Governor Benning Wentworth, as well as other royal and New Hampshire state governors and statesmen.

See the whole gallery at http://www.gravematter.com/cem-nh-portsmouth5.asp