Some memorials are part of the fabric

Posted
Saturday February 4, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON

My friend Paul Hickey recently reminded me, pertinent to a controversial sculpture at Kennedy Park in Lenox, that Great Barrington has a prominent private memorial. It is the stone seat in front of Town Hall.

Alfred Skitt Reed, 26, died in an accident near Canastota, N.Y. in late October 1924. Reed’s Packard rolled over and crushed him after he swerved to avoid striking another car. Born in Yonkers, N.Y., he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Reed. The Reeds owned an estate on South Egremont Road. During World War I, Alfred Reed served with the 27th Division. Just prior to the accident he had been visiting his mother, who by then had remarried and was Mrs. F.B. Robins in Toronto, Ontario. She had just entertained the Prince of Wales, that’s how prominent she was.

A grieving Robins first wanted to give a gymnasium to Great Barrington in memory of her son, then in November 1925 she decided instead on a memorial seat and park in front of Town Hall. She hired landscape architect Harlan L. Movius of Boston. Movius called for demolition of the existing bandstand on the corner and moving the cannon Old Macedonia to the south end of the lawn. Plans also suggested a one-way road around Town Hall, with a few parking spaces on the south side. This parking scheme was implemented -- 70 years later, in 1995.

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The bench memorial was installed in July 1926. "The marble circular bench is to be laid on a foundation of cement, the forms for which are being placed this week," The Berkshire Courier said. "In the center of the semi-circular bench there will be a marble base and fountain. The memorial tablet will be placed in the center of the semi-circle directly in front of the Civil War memorial." The drinking fountain’s pipes decades later froze and shattered the base. The bowl, as far as I know, has been stored at Elmwood Cemetery since 1998, waiting to someday be equipped with a new base and brought back to Town Hall. The bench is well-used.

Most motorists on Route 20 in Hancock, though, pass a private memorial unaware. A wee graveyard on a knoll on the right, as you ascend Lebanon Mountain, contains a 6-foot granite cross for Lindon W. Bates Jr., inscribed "Le vrai caractere perce Tourjours dans le grandes circonstances."

The deceased was the son of Lindon W. Sr. (d.1924) and Josephine White Bates (d.1934). They and another son, Lindell T. (d.1937), lived in New York, where the father headed Bates Engineering & Construction, builder of the Panama Canal. The family had a summer place here, west of Hancock Shaker Village, 800 acres acquired from the Shakers, some of it in New York state, some in Massachusetts. They called it Lebanon Lodge. Young Lindon attended Harrow, graduated from Yale in 1902, was fluent in several languages and was a strong athlete. He traveled. He dabbled in politics. He wrote "Path of the Conquistadors" about the Amazon. He campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt. And as vice president of Bates Engineering he worked for the family business.

Answering a call for humanitarian aid in Belgium -- he was on the executive committee of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium -- he booked passage for Europe on the Lusitania. It was May 1915. A German submarine sank the ship. Some 1,500 passengers and crew died, Bates among them. His body eventually washed up in Galway Bay. His ashes were buried at the Hancock property in May 1937.

The Bateses commissioned sculptor and artist Donn Barber to design a towering granite monument to their dead son, to rise some 115 feet.

The Boston Daily Globe wrote about it in its Sept. 15, 1915, issue in a story titled "Shaft on High Berkshire Peak." The newspaper said the obelisk, "because of its color by day and by reason of an upward pointed searchlight by night, will be readily visible for miles in each direction.

"The shaft will be almost an exact duplicate of the historic Pompey’s Pillar, which has stood for ages in Alexandria, Egypt, and which, in the opinion of young Mr. Bates, was one of the most beautiful architectural classics in the world. He visited Pompey’s Pillar several time, studied its lines and its history, wrote about it, and was regarded as an expert on it."

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The family never carried out its plans, though schematics of what was to be called The Monument to Sacrifice survive. Lindell Bates bequeathed 450 acres of Hancock land to the city of Pittsfield for a wildlife sanctuary and public park in his brother’s memory. None of the land was in Pittsfield.

Pittsfield didn’t know what to do with the donation, and negotiated to turn it over to the commonwealth. Planning Board Chairman William J. Hurley hoped the state Department of Conservation would add it to Pittsfield State Forest, according to an Eagle story of Oct. 15, 1937.

While commonwealth officials for many years referred to the holding as Lindell T. Bates Memorial State Park, Frederick Bowers, senior civil engineer for the Department of Natural Resource, in 1960 acknowledged to Adolph J. Kohlhofer, civil engineer in Pittsfield, that that was the wrong brother. The true name is Lindon Bates Memorial Park.

Bernard Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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