As Brookline officials prepare to bring the town’s weathered Civil War memorial back into Town Hall, one selectman is calling for the return of a marble tablet lost since the 1960s.
The missing piece once sat atop seven tablets bearing the names of Brookline men who fought and died in the Civil War. The seven tablets were removed from an ornate stairway in Brookline’s old town hall when it was demolished, but the piece above them went missing.
“When town hall came down in 1963, people didn’t take history as seriously as perhaps they could have,” Selectman Dick Benka said. “My hope is some workman or some citizen who saw it being thrown out might have saved it.”
The seven remaining tablets were housed in a tent-shaped concrete memorial in Brookline Village after the new Town Hall was constructed, but moisture leaked into the case over the decades and the marble tablets began to erode. Officials recently removed the pieces to have them restored and plan to erect them in the lobby of the modern Town Hall once again later this year.
But officials say they will have to create a replica of the top piece if the original is not found. Benka said he’s hopeful that a town worker took the piece home during the demolition of the old town hall and has kept it in storage since.
“If there is a citizen of the town who might have that sitting around, it would be wonderful to have it back,” he said.
The missing piece reads: “In Grateful Remembrance of her Sons who gave their lives in Defence of their Country during the Civil War the Town of Brookline has erected these Tablets.”
Brookline already has a precedent for retrieving lost pieces of its history. A stained- glass replica of the town’s seal was also lost in the town hall demolition, but it resurfaced in the 1970s when it went up for auction and is now installed at the entrance to Town Hall, along with a capital from an old town hall column that was also recently returned to the town.
The Civil War tablets date back to 1884, when Town Meeting formed a committee charged with erecting a memorial in Town Hall to honor the soldiers and sailors who died in the “war of rebellion,” according to documents from the time. The entire project, including the purchase of the “reddish Tennessee marble” tablets, cost $651.97.
Brookline Building Commissioner Mike Shepherd said the 1884 committee went through an exhaustive research process to determine which residents would be eligible and confirm where and when they died.
“One of the remarkable things about these tablets is they don’t list names, but they really are a history of the civil war,” Selectmen Benka said. “There was an extraordinarily amount of effort in 1885 that went into researching and creating this plaque—not just names but the dates individuals died, or were injured and then killed, and what battles they fought in.”
Shepherd said he was “disheartened” by the condition of the tablets when he first came to Brookline and even ordered that a decrepit American flag be removed from the leaky case that housed them. More recently, all the tablets were removed and taken to a conservator in Somerville who is cleaning and restoring them.
“I expect she’ll be done with them shortly,” Shepherd said.
The town also hired an architect to design a frame to hold the tablets on one side of the Town Hall lobby, where a bulletin board and TV are currently installed. Shepherd said the frame will include space for the top piece, though the town currently does not have the money to buy a replacement.
Officials hope to re-dedicate the tablets at a ceremony this Memorial Day.
“For what they did for us, this is just the right thing to do,” Shepherd said.