On March 10, 1941, 13 firefighters in Brockton, Massachusetts,
lost their lives while attempting to douse the flames that
razed the city’s historic Strand Theater. Though that
tragedy represented one of the largest firefighter losses
in the country -- the second largest until September 11, 2001
-- no monument or memorial has ever been created to honor
those who died. The mayor’s office and the city’s
firefighters want to change that.
When Elliot Offner, Andrew M.
Mellon Professor in the Humanities and Art, received a visit
last May from a troop of firefighters from Brockton, a suburban
city south of Boston, he liked them right away.
had been asked to assist the mayor’s office and the
city’s firefighters in coordinating the creation of
a monument to honor its 13 firefighters killed in the tragic
Strand Theater fire, and the group had come to view some of
“I had half the fire department
here,” says Offner in his Hillyer Hall studio. “They
were inspiring. My wife and I just love these guys.”
When the city asked Offner to consider creating a sculpture
to honor the fallen firefighters, he accepted. After seeing
a few renderings of the proposed sculpture, city officials
settled on one with a lone, grieving firefighter sitting amid
13 empty helmets strewn about black granite steps.
“They claim they were thrilled with this drawing,”
says Offner. “This has been a very moving experience.”
For now, the city is attempting to raise the funds necessary
to create the work, soliciting residents and businesses in
Brockton. Offner estimates it will take around $150,000 to
pay for costs, such as a concrete base sheathed in granite
with bronze sculptures.
Once a design is approved and
funds are raised, the monument would take Offner about a year
to complete, he says.
Offner, who serves as president
of the National Sculpture Society, often accepts commissions
from groups or people who have seen his works around the country.
Some of his works are in the permanent collection of the Hirshhorn
Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the Brooklyn
Museum. His public sculptures include the Holocaust Memorial
at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City and the
National Association of Letter Carriers Monument in Milwaukee.
But the Brockton monument is different, he says. Anne McCormack
’88, an Ada Comstock Scholar and a former student of
Offner’s who is the city’s director of cultural
affairs, spearheaded the effort to involve him. His fondness
for McCormack played a big part in Offner’s acceptance
to create the memorial, he says. “Anne is a very nice
person,” he says, “a wonderful person.”
Though it happened more than
60 years ago, the Strand Theater fire still evokes emotion
among the city’s residents. The fire seemed under control,
according to reports, until the roof and a balcony of the
building collapsed, trapping the firefighters underneath.
Twelve firefighters died in the fire, and another a few days
“When you talk to people
who were alive at the time of the fire, they remember it as
if it were yesterday,” said McCormack in the Brockton
Enterprise newspaper. “The memorial will honor all former
firefighters and those who are firefighters today.”
When completed, the Brockton
memorial will be 17 feet long, 8.5 feet wide and more than
6 feet high. The city intends to construct the memorial near
its City Hall building, which is close to where the Strand
Theater once stood.