By John M. Holman, Contributing Writer
"It started as a grave marker ..... and became a monument!"
All he wanted was a grave marker for his son who was buried at sea in the Pacific during World War II. What his efforts brought after many years of endeavor, was a memorial at Hampton Beach to all New Hampshire sons and daughters lost or buried at sea during World War II.
William E. Downs of Manchester recalls that his first thoughts were to see if the Federal government would furnish him a grave marker to be placed at a token grave site for his son, Captain William D. Downs, who was buried at sea on May 25, 1945.
When Mr. Downs learned that no such marker was available to him or to the thousands of others who had lost someone at sea, he tried to establish a federal monument in the nation's capital. No such monument could be built, the answer came back.
This did not stop Mr. Downs, and in 1950, he received support from then Governor Sherman Adams, who created a "New Hampshire Marine Memorial Commission." It was this commission which for the next four years, studied the possibility of a memorial on the New Hampshire seacoast.
Two site for the Memorial were proposed by the commission .... the first was at "Pulpit Rock" at Rye Beach. But since this land was then in litigation, it was decided to abandon this site.
The next choice was at "Ragged Neck" at Rye Harbor. This being a state park and since those wishing to visit the Memorial would have to pay an admission charge, this idea was dropped also.
Finally, under former Governor Hugh Gregg, the commission chose as its location for the Memorial statue and honor roll, a plot of ground at Hampton Beach across from the Ashworth Hotel. Through the cooperation of the State Highway Department, the land was acquired and preparation continued for the raising of the funds to erect the statue and all the other necessary details.
Various designs for the Memorial submitted and finally a design by Alice E. Cosgrove [1909-1971], a talented artist from Concord, was chosen. Her design was accepted unanimously after the commission members had viewed the other entries.
She made a scale model which was used by a Cambridge, Massachusetts sculptor, Teodors Uzarins, to model a life-size statue in clay at the Caproni Galleries in Boston. Uzarins, working closely with Alice, produced the sensitive face and feeling now immortalized in granite which you see today.
Quoting from the history of the Memorial, written by Reg Abbott for the NEW HAMPSHIRE SUNDAY NEWS of May 27, 1962, "..... And there was Joseph Comolli, of Concord, a granite contractor who worked far beyond what was required of him until his crane could lower the completed statue on its base just before dedication day on May 30, 1957.
"The 24-ton granite block from which the statue was carved, was cut at Swenson's Granite Quarries of Concord. Shipped to Barre, Vermont for shaping, and made the trip to Hampton after 17 of those tons had been skillfully removed by an Italian artisan, Vincenzo Andreani of Marr and Gordon, Inc., Granite Works, using a plaster cast of the lady for point-by-point measurements. (The plaster cast bust of "The Lady" is now on permanent display at the Tuck Memorial Museum at 40 Park Avenue, Hampton, NH.)
"From its six-foot base, the statue rises to a height of 12 feet. The circular seat behind it, is 20 feet long, two feet six inches wide and four feet high. It bears 10 columns originally totalling 248 names with the state seal at each end. And the inscription reads:
LOST AT SEA IN DEFENCE OF OUR COUNTRY'."
[A Postcard photo by Carleton Allen]
The monument was completed and dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1957. On Veterans Day, 1970, the American Legion Post #35 of the Hamptons, dedicated two flag poles at the monument, which fly the American and state flags.
The words from the poem by John Gay, written in 1714, in his "An Epistle to a Lady" were selected by Alice Cosgrove to be inscribed at the base of the statue as a tribute to not only the son of William E. Downs, but to all those lost or buried at sea during World War II.
And who does not know those immortal words, "Breathe soft, ye winds, Ye waves in silence rest."?
As Miss Cosgrove once said, "Reverently she lays a wreath upon the soft waters which embrace them. As she looks across the waters, she asks that the winds and waves be gentle, as a mother who covers her sleeping child at night."
Some would say, "Why?". Bill Downs said, "Why not?"