The Lady Was Not Always There

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26 Years Old

By Norma C. Adams

The Beachcomber, Thursday, August 4, 1983

HAMPTON BEACH — It is difficult to imagine the beach without the Marine Memorial lady keeping vigil.

She faces the sea just north of the Sea Shell complex on the main boulevard near where the crowds congregate.

She is a gathering place for many, in all seasons, surrounded as she is with her own railed-in space providing a moment of repose for people of all ages in warm weather. In cold weather. she is an artistic study of texture and light.

But she wasn't there before May 1957 and how she came into being is worth repeating.

The words she bears. "Breathe Soft Ye Winds . . . Ye Waves in Silence Rest," are the only engraved eulogy for 248 men buried or lost at sea while in the armed forces serving their country.

She did not come into existence easily.

It was almost 40 years ago that William E. Downs, of Manchester, lost his only child and son, Capt. William D. Downs. in the South Pacific.

Capt. Downs, returning to this country on a troop ship after duty in the South Pacific, fell ill and was buried at sea. That was in May 1945 near the end of World War II.

The older Downs was grief-stricken on the death of his son, his anguish intensified with no tangible marker to serve as a grave to honor his son's life and death. It took Downs, with the help of many others, a dozen years to get that marker. He appealed to Washington, was rebuffed, then turned to the state. They heard his appeal.

In 1950, it was then-Governor Sherman Adams who created a state Marine Memorial Commission with Downs as its first chairman. For the next four years, this commission studied the feasibility of erecting a marine memorial on the New Hampshire coast to honor all sons of the state who had died or been lost at sea in military service. Attention was given to the Rye coastline.

But the two spots considered, Pulpit Rock and Ragged Neck, were discounted when it was realized the first was under litigation and the second, a state park. meant admission fees for the public.

Under former Governor Hugh Gregg. a piece of land at Hampton Beach opposite the Ashworth Hotel was selected and with the support and help of the state highway department, the land was acquired by the commission.

Public subscription and assistance from the state allowed by a legislative act of 1955 funded the project which was expected to cost approximately $50.000. The money needed was raised after seven years' work by two select committees.

Concord artist Alice Cosgrove submitted the design chosen for the memorial and a Cambridge, Mass. sculptor brought the lady to life in a clay scale model.

The statue was cut from a 21-ton granite block at Swenson's Granite Quarries of Concord and shipped to Barre. Vt. for shaping.

After 17 tons had been removed by Italian-born craftsman Vincenzo Andreani of Marr and Gordon Inc. Granite Works, the statue was sent to Hampton to be placed on the spot where it stands today.

From its six-foot base, the statue of the seated lady holding a wreath rises 12 feet. The circular seat behind the base is 20 feet long, two feet, six inches wide and four feet high. It bears 10 columns with 248 names of New Hampshire men who died at sea in military service and not only in World War II.

Included are the names of two men who died in the destruction of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898 and five who were lost when their ships were blown up en route to France in World War I. Included are the names of four New Hampshire men who were lost when entombed in their ships in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The memorial was dedicated May 20, 1957, almost 12 years to the day after the death of Capt. William D. Downs.

Information for this article was taken from histories of the memorial written by former Tuck [Memorial] Museum curator John M. Holman for Hampton Union in May 1975 and Reporter Reg Abbot for the New Hampshire Sunday News in May, 1962.

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