‘Creepy’ figure watches over Sterling House
STRATFORD >> Some called him cute. Others said he’s creepy.
Either way, he now can look down on everyone in town.
The Sterling House gargoyle was hoisted by crane to its new perch atop the 131-year-old building, ending its 25-year imprisonment indoors.
The figure — it’s technically a grotesque, rather than a gargoyle, because it’s not a rain spout — was on the roof of the carriage house on the center’s south side. It was stolen as a teenage prank in 1983.
It was recovered and installed again, only to be swiped a second time in 1992, after which detectives tracked it down to an antiques dealer. Since then, it had been holding its grim court in the foyer.
“Now it’s back were it belongs: on the roof,” said Amanda Meeson, executive director of the multipurpose community center. “And it’s up so high now, I doubt if anyone will bother it again.”
The grotesque’s new home, about 60 feet over the sidewalk, was made possible by an ongoing construction project that’s both enlarging the community center and making it more handicapped accessible.
At about 3 p.m. Friday, roofers, with the help of a platform crane, brought the clay sculpture to the peak of the new, rear addition to the Sterling House.
The operation took the better part of an hour.
Meeson said that some thought that the winged statue was “giving off bad vibes” and was “creepy.”
“But, you know, maybe he wasn’t so bad after all,” she said. “We’ve had a pretty good year, all things considered.”
The improvements, officials say, will make the Sterling House — chockablock with doors, staircases and hallways — more handicapped accessible. That work has been progressing, and the relocation of the gargoyle was a small, but some say important, part of that project.
Stratford’s delegation to the State Capitol announced a year ago that the State Bond Commission OK’d a $1.2 million grant to construct an elevator and a new south-side entrance for the building. It’s hoped that the improvements will be completed in October.
The Sterling House is named after merchant sea captain John W. Sterling (1796-1866). Sterling witnessed Napoleon’s return from Elba at Le Havre, and earlier, as a child, watched Robert Fulton’s first steamship on the Hudson. But Capt. Sterling didn’t build the house. It was built by his son, John Sterling, in 1886.
The son died in 1916, leaving the house and the family’s fortunes to his sister, Cordelia.
Cordelia never married and had no children. When she died in 1931, it was discovered she had willed the home as community center for the town, along with a $250,000 endowment, or $3.9 million in today’s dollars.
Her will stated the center would not be run directly by the town, but by the Congregational Church Ecclesiastical Society, an arrangement that continues to this day. The center opened in 1932.
Grotesques are traditionally seen on Gothic Revival cathedrals in Northern Europe constructed in the 19th century.