American School for the Deaf unveils resurrected monument honoring founder Thomas Gallaudet

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Granite, marble and bronze, a melding of old and new materials, form a resurrected monument unveiled Thursday at the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford.

Prominent on the school’s broad front lawn off North Main Street, the 20-foot-tall monument honors school founder Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.

The obelisk and crowning globe, along with two relief panels, are marble from the original monument, which was dedicated in 1854 on the school’s former campus on Asylum Street in Hartford. Artists re-created two of the original marble relief panels in bronze. One shows Gallaudet teaching children and the other spells out his name in American Sign Language, which was invented at the school. The monument’s base is Vermont granite, carved to replicate the original marble.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and West Hartford town council member Adrienne Billings-Smith were among the speakers at the early afternoon ceremony. In the audience were students, alumni and staff of the school that Gallaudet founded in 1817, the birthplace of deaf education in the nation.

Billings-Smith proclaimed Deaf Heritage Week in West Hartford and told the ASD community, “Continue to honor your past and build a better future for all of us.”

The school was launched in Hartford after local minister Gallaudet met his neighbor’s 9-year-old daughter, Alice Cogswell, who had lost her hearing after contracting meningitis. Gallaudet traveled to Europe to learn about deaf education, met educator Laurent Clerc in Paris and lured him to Hartford.

On April 15, 1817, Clerc, Gallaudet and Alice’s father, Mason Cogswell, opened the Connecticut Asylum at Hartford for the Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons inside the Old City Hotel at Main and Gold streets. The school soon outgrew the hotel and in 1821 moved to a site on Asylum Street. A century later, the school moved to its present site.

Gallaudet died in 1851, and the deaf community raised money for the original monument, unveiled three years later. An inscription in marble says, “Dedicated to the memory of Rev. Thomas Gallaudet ... by the deaf & dumb of the United States: As a testimonial of profound gratitude to their earliest & truest friend and benefactor.”

After the school moved to West Hartford, the monument ended up in pieces. Much of it was stored for decades in a stone worker’s barn. In 1932, the marble relief panel showing Gallaudet with Alice Cogswell and other deaf children was restored and placed in the school lobby, and in 1954, remaining pieces were brought back to the West Hartford campus.

In 2016, the school, which serves students from elementary through high school, engaged conservator Francis Miller to assess the feasibility of restoring the monument. Three years later, after an alumna made a major donation, the alumni association decided to fund the restoration.

Much of the marble relief panel showing Gallaudet’s name in sign language was missing, so Steven Petersen, a deaf artist from Minnesota, was engaged to re-create the original panel. Landscape artist John Stewart of Plainville-based Loureiro Engineering Associates, designed the monument site.

As the audience gathered under a gray sky, the monument was wrapped in a giant white sheet that flapped in the wind. A man atop a scissors lift untied a cord wrapped around the capping orb and the sheet dropped. ASD Executive Director Jeffrey Bravin, who presided over the unveiling, declared, “This is a piece of our history that is now a part of our campus once again.”

Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at jleavenworth@courant.com