By James Niedzinski
---- — ROCKPORT — Greg Wilkinson said he usually plants a single outdoor Christmas tree in December along the rocks just off Marmion Way.
This year, however, Wilkinson decided — with help from friends and local businesses — to plant 26 trees as a holiday memorial and tribute to the schoolchildren and adults who lost their lives in the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook School massacre in Newtown, Conn.
While Newtown is nearly 200 miles away and Wilkinson does not have any direct connection to the town or any victims, he said he wanted a way to memorialize those who died.
The trees are scattered on the rocky shores along Wilkinson’s property, held in place with sand and fishing wire.
“I was wondering what I could do, if anything,” he said Wednesday. “I just got this idea.”
Others have been supportive of the project, with friends and neighbors helping him set up the memorial on Sunday. Sand, buckets and other materials were provided by Rockport’s Ace Hardware and fishing line provided by Fisherman’s Outfitter, both in Gloucester.
He added residents and people passing by often stop and notice the trees and soon make the connection to the Newtown massacre when they realize there are 26 trees.
Wilkinson, who is the sailing coach for Boston College, and whose wife, Sarah Wilkinson, serves on Rockport’s Board of Selectmen, said sailing team alumni in the area also helped with the memorial.
Word traveled fast throughout, reaching residents outside of town.
Margaret Jerome of Newburyport was visiting her friend, Jean Cameron, who lives close by the Marmion Way holiday display.
Jerome said she got an email from a friend telling her about the Christmas tree memorial.
“It really is a thoughtful, respectful gesture,” Jerome said.
Wilkinson said he plans to keep the trees up until around New Year’s Eve, but weather may not be on his side.
“In the past, I could manage to keep one tree up,” he said. “With 26, it might be a different story.”
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.