No Park, No Peace: Advocates Say They Will Rebuild Desecrated Peace Park

There weren’t many places little Oliviah Lundin-Monaco could go to remember her late father in a positive way – but for a time the Peace Park (officially the Lowney/McGrath Park) was the place.

But suddenly last week, the 18 month-old rehabilitated park space – dedicated in the name of those from Charlestown who have been lost to violence or addiction – was suddenly missing.

A group of community members, the Charlestown Coalition and Turn It Around gathered on Monday afternoon in the Peace Park on Lowney Way to survey the damage done from an act of desecration. Memorial rocks with names of loved ones lost to violence and addiction were discarded, and other improvements were destroyed as well. The group pledged, ‘We will rebuild’ this week.
A photo from 2018 of the heart-shaped rock memorial that was placed and dedicated during the Peace Park grand opening.
A makeshift memorial has been placed with names of loved ones where the real memorial once stood.

Hundreds of rocks with the names of loved ones who had been murdered, lost to overdoses or victims of Charlestown’s ultra-violent past were suddenly missing from the Peace Park. Likewise, part of the gold fence that had been painted in 2018 was painted black, and three trees were cut down. Plaques on the benches with quotes about peacefulness were removed and a sign proclaiming the ‘Peace Park’ was ripped down.

When Lundin-Monaco heard about the desecration of the space, she quickly ran up to look for the rock she made for her father, Tim Monaco.

But it was gone.

“My mother and I had made a rock for my dad when we did the Peace Park and they just stole it,” she said on Monday. “I was just so mad and sad because it wasn’t their stuff to touch.”

The Peace Park was an idea conceived by the Charlestown Coalition and the Turn It Around youth group in 2018, and was propelled by a small grant from the City to do the work. The group chose the small park on Lowney Way as it had seemingly been forgotten territory and was unkempt; plus, it had been dedicated to a murder victim, Robert McGrath, many years prior.

Sarah Coughlin of the Coalition said they were having trouble maintaining the park recently, but were seeking out funding from the Community Preservation Act (CPA) to help with maintenance. It was during a scheduled walk-through of the Park with the CPA that she discovered all of the sacred rocks and improvements made in 2018 had been desecrated.

Since that time the issue has ignited, and from one end of the Town to the other, folks have been up in arms. Some are ready to find the person(s) responsible and bring them to justice, and others are focused on moving forward.

Coughlin said a police investigation has been initiated, and police do have a suspect in the matter. As the investigation continues, they will consider charges for the desecration if warranted.

Beyond that, most of the community and the Turn It Around kids are dealing with the emotion of having such a sacred place violated.

“I don’t know what possessed people to take something that came from deep within the hearts of other people – something that came from the pain of deep loss,” said Elaine Donovan, who mentioned that she had left a rock for a baby she lost years ago in pregnancy. “We’re going through the proper channels and we’re going to let the law handle it. We’re choosing to be peaceful about this. It’s hard because it’s like stealing someone’s headstone. It’s so sacred and such a violation. We’re just going to rebuild this place and that’s how we’ll move forward.”

Susan Rawlinson, who had left a rock for her murdered son, Steven Jones, said she was very unsettled.

“I’m very unsettled because my son’s rock is missing,” she said. “This place, no matter how many times I went by it, it was a place where the community came together to remember people like my son Steven, or Robert McGrath. It was a peace garden. Basically, right now, despite the adversity, this is going to allow us to gain new momentum to start a new effort.”

Michael ‘Smokey’ Cain had left multiple rocks for his family members, including his son Michael who overdosed fatally only a few years back. He said whomever took the rocks and desecrated the park ignored the pain and vulnerability it took for people to put those rocks out publicly.

“It’s not that often you have an opportunity to represent the memory of a dead child,” he said. “It’s so hard to get people to come out publicly to remember such a painful thing – to peel away the wound again and be truly vulnerable. That happened once. It happened here. Now it’s been taken away, and that really hurts.”

Crystal Galvin of the Kennedy Center said if one of the Turn It Around teens had desecrated a park in Charlestown in the same fashion, they would have already been caught and held accountable. Now, she said, it’s time to rally around them and let them know that the community appreciated what they did.

“I think the act is so egregious,” she said. “If the tables were turned, there would have been a witch hunt for these kids and they would have been hauled in quickly. It’s a community here and I think it’s important we stand with them now.”

Coughlin said the group of kids are resilient, and she has learned those who participated in the Peace Park outside of the group are also just as resilient. So, the move at the moment is to gather support from the community and put all of the raw emotion into rebuilding what was there.

“It’s a really strong, resilient group of young people who are not unfamiliar with overcoming adversity,” she said. “It’s not the first time they’ve had unfair and ugly things happen in their lives…Some of them have expressed that Charlestown doesn’t want them in the Town and they’re not welcome in their community, but we’re challenging that. It’s not an us versus them situation. It’s a small group of people who didn’t want this here. When we did this, it was not just a Turn It Around event. It was people from all over the community who came together for peace. It was a unifying event, and I think people will unify over this once again.”

Shannon White of the Coalition said there has been a GoFundMe page started for the repair and restoration of the Peace Park, and that Jenae Ricci of Starbucks has volunteered to host rock painting gatherings at the store in Thompson Square.

The fundraising page can be found at gofundme.com under the ‘Peace Park Rebuild’ campaign.

3 comments for “No Park, No Peace: Advocates Say They Will Rebuild Desecrated Peace Park

  1. Jeff
    October 4, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    I live on Mount Vernon and I have absolutely no issue with what the Peace Park group has done with area at the end of the street, but there are quite a few things stated in this article that simply aren’t true. First of which, as exemplified by me, there are people on Mount Vernon and Prospect that are in support of the what is being done with the plaza. That’s not to say that there aren’t people in the area that do not like the aesthetics of the changes made, but I think little attempt has been made to include those in the immediate area that are in support of the Peace Park.

    The other misrepresentation is that the park was suddenly vandalized. I pass through this park every day and have watch day by day the park slowly over the course of over a year transition from the way it looked at the dedication to the way it looks now. Over the course of those 18 months weather contributed greatly to the degradation of the park. Again, I am not saying that none of the damage was done maliciously, but I watched as wind and rain and snow would scatter the stones, and then state DOT crews would come in and clean up the snow or leaves and would sweep up the scattered stones with the leaves or snow. I also watched as a DOT crew tried to use a piece of snow removal equipment that was too big for the space and hit the peace park sign and left it in pieces on the sidewalk. The article also makes it sound like vandals cut the trees down. The trees died and a DOT crew came in and cut them down.

    • Christine Celata
      October 7, 2019 at 12:15 pm

      This is a sensible, reasonable explanation and it makes sense. It’s tough to visualize a single individual taking it upon herself to remodel a public park under cover of night during a short number of days. I remember during the 60s when that space was made into “The Tot Lot”. Mothers with carriages would sit together. I vaguely remember that there had been some opposition to The Tot Lot as well. Perhaps the park planners could devise a semi-weekly maintenance plan. Assuming what the former writer is true, it sounds like no one was visiting, reflecting, or attending to the spot, once it was established. Understandable. Memorials serve a good purpose, but I think they can be tough for family to visit. Let’s hope a more durable version of the Peace Park can be established.

      • Cheryl Wehler
        October 11, 2019 at 7:35 am

        One woman desecrated this park and should be held accountable. This park was created for all to sit and reflect. Many in our community worked long hours to see this happen. This is a public park and no one has the right to vandalize it. The person who did this might benefit from sitting there and look into their heart and try to understand why they are filled with such hate! We will rebuild and make it more beautiful than before.

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