For Downing Park Planning Committee Vice President Keith Nieto, it was a heartbreaking scene. On the morning of July 5, 2016, Nieto woke up at 4 a.m. to the sound of a crash.
“Of course, I came out to see if the driver needed assistance,” Nieto said. Nieto came out to see Downing Park’s prized civil war monument lying on the ground in pieces. Nieto has lived in front of Downing Park’s art deco civil war monument for the past 19 years.
The monument was erected in Downing Park on Memorial Day 1934 by the Daughters of the Union. After the accident on July 5, 2016, the park planning committee scrambled to save the precious monument. After over three years of tedious work, the new monument was revealed Saturday, September 21.
In order to rustle up funds, Downing Park Planning Committee President, Kathy Parisi, worked with the city’s Corporation Counsel and the insurance company to retrieve the insurance money from the driver. Around $25,000 was retrieved and put into a special account by the city. In addition, the committee received around five thousand dollars from a GoFundMe page.
At the advice of late Assemblyman Frank Skartados, the city applied for a grant to help restore the monument. The grant covered the remaining cost of restoration. In addition, the park received new benches, new trash receptacles, and opportunities to have work down on the Shelter House Cafe.
The restored monument uses the same marble from the original quarry used to build the original monument. According to Parisi, the restored monument was brought in around the end of April for Memorial Day.
Parisi emphasized that in the three years it took to restore the monument, there were concerns it wouldn’t happen. “The veterans [that helped restore the monument] were very supportive,” said Parisi. But they “were very concerned the monument would not get resurrected.”
The monument still has its original plaque.
“If you look closely there’s a few dings on it,” said Parisi.
At the end of the ceremony, individuals gathered around the monument, marveling in its restored glory. On the end of the plaque, it says, “let us have peace.”
“I hope to think that people can sit on the benches,” said Nieto. “And reflect on people who served with their lives”