, Gloucester, MA

October 2, 2012

Letter: Private memorials, public land

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

I was shocked to read in the Times last week that the Rockport selectmen are considering a proposal by the DPW director to replace aging benches in scenic Rockport with donated benches having memorial plaques.

This issue was wisely and effectively dealt with some 16 years ago when “memorial benches” began appearing at the most scenic sites in Rockport such as the Headlands and Front Beach.

The concept was promoted by a local monument company. If you could pony up $1,000 and knew about this before anyone else, you could have your own private family memorial installed on public land -- forever. What a deal!

This was not a memorial for Abraham Lincoln, or Ralph Waldo Emerson, or for someone who had left several million dollars to improve the schools. This was an opportunity to claim “naming rights” on the most scenic and cherished public spaces in Rockport.

For a town which is a famous tourist attraction known for seaside beauty and quaint atmosphere, it is amazing that this subject has come up again as a quick and easy way to finance benches. Rockport is a town that limits vendor displays on Bearskin Neck and requires real estate agents to ask for permission before they install open house signs and promptly remove them. Yet the idea of littering the coastline with private memorials rises from the ashes.

Let us be clear. This is public property belonging to all residents. It is a shortsighted and unimaginative way to raise money.

The current policy, approved by the selectmen in 1996, properly limited private memorials to the cemetery, where they belong. If a family wanted to memorialize someone, it could donate a bench without a plaque, and have their memorial be listed on a scroll which hangs in Town Hall. This certainly distinguishes between those who want to selflessly donate to the town and those who want to purchase an inexpensive, permanent memorial on public property.

Finally, there is the matter of fairness. We all would be thrilled to have a permanent marker for a loved one with a $10 million view of the ocean over Front Beach or the Headlands. But there are only a limited number of these sites. If you are not among the lucky few, in this one year, who are the first to sign up and can afford to spend $1,000, then you and your family and all future families are out of luck.

The selectmen’s original policy should stand as is. It is fair. It takes into account the rights of all residents, and it maintains the rare, cherished and unique beauty of Rockport now and into the future, unmarred by multiple private memorials installed on public land.