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On Thanksgiving: the memorial that time forgot

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PLYMOUTH, MASS. -- Situated on a hilltop just around the corner from my home is an eight-story granite monument that was dedicated with great fanfare in the late 1800s. Women carried parasols on that day. Men with mutton chops and mustaches declaimed from a bunting-adorned podium.

As the years passed, houses hedged in. Trees now obscure the seaward vista. A few unimpressive signs point visitors to the National Monument to the Forefathers, and then only when practically atop it.

This is not a plea for renewed public interest in this tribute to the Pilgrims. This is an appreciation of it as it is.

Oh, it has an impressive pedigree: one of the tallest stone structures in the United States; 70 years in the making; a lithic paean to courage, morality, and education. It was planned to be twice as high, a veritable Colossus of Rhodes. Practical considerations scaled it down. Time forgot it.

The monument doesn’t do much business today. There are no tour guides, souvenir stands, or sound-and-light shows. You can walk up to it day or night, or grind around the gravel path that surrounds it, and be alone with the figure of Faith, an open Bible in one hand, her other pointing skyward.

There are only passing references to the Forefathers Monument in histories and tour books. Truth is, it is not very Pilgrim. It is heavy on allegory, oozing with symbolism and geegaws as Victoriana often is. Still, that it is now a place to stumble upon and wonder about gives it a charm all its own.

Monuments are anchors in time. Epochs pass, weather erodes, people lose interest. This cannot be helped. But patina itself is worth appreciating. Patina is the value that age puts on an object. It’s what makes an antique antique. It is experience, maturity, the soft sheen of time. Patina wasn’t present at the spanking-new creation. It comes from a life lived.

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