Fam­i­lies seek an­swers for memo­rial’s re­moval

Record Observer - - News - By AN­GELA PRICE bay­times@kibay­times.com

STEVENSVILLE — The Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Play­ground at Old Love Point Park is gone. The play­ground project grew from the out­pour­ing of com­mu­nity love and sup­port in the wake of a tragedy that took the lives of two ba­bies at an in-home day care in Clover­fields and was ded­i­cated to all the lost chil­dren in the county. The play­ground was ded­i­cated in Oc­to­ber 1999. Now, not a trace of it re­mains. One lo­cal mom, Elaine Har­ri­son, is look­ing for an­swers.

Har­ri­son said she was ex­cited when she saw the county had al­lo­cated money for new play­ground equip­ment; she thought the play­ground was get­ting a facelift. In­stead, ev­ery­thing was re­moved — ev­ery piece of equip­ment, the ded­i­ca­tion signs, the memo­rial benches and even the con­crete con­tain­ing the chil­dren’s me­mo­ri­als.

“The Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Play­ground built by com­mu­nity do­na­tions and zero tax dol­lars has been de­mol­ished. My son’s bench has been re­lo­cated to a land­fill along with all the other do­nated benches hon­or­ing other chil­dren of Queen Anne’s County who died way to soon. They are all gone. Why? Why did they have to re­design the en­tire play­ground?” she asked. “What about the me­mo­ri­als?”

Fam­i­lies of lost chil­dren had de­signed me­mo­ri­als in ce­ment squares. They had hand­prints and names and dates and spe­cial de­signs in them.

“Ev­ery square rep­re­sented a dead child. They lined the walk­way along the hand­i­cap ramp,” Har­ri­son said. Her son Matthew’s square con­tained his name, the dates of his birth and death and an­gels. Ian Denny’s square had his name and but­ter­flies, she re­called.

Matthew and Ian were both 5 months old in May 1998 when they suf­fo­cated un­der a quilt while nap­ping on an adult bed at their day care while their day care provider was hold­ing a birth­day party down­stairs for her own child.

When her first­born son died, it felt as if her world ended, Har­ri­son said. It was all she could do just to breathe, but her com­mu­nity lifted her up, she said.

“They gave me air. Ev­ery card, ev­ery prayer, ev­ery hug, ev­ery phone call or visit. Each one of them lifted me back up and put the air back in my lungs and, in time, I got my feet un­der me again …. The love my com­mu­nity of­fered me saved me,” Har­ri­son said.

A neigh­bor, Martha Hafner, came to Har­ri­son and Ian’s mom Dawn Denny want­ing to cre­ate a memo­rial project for their ba­bies. She sug­gested a play­ground. Har­ri­son and Denny en­dorsed the project, but didn’t want it to be just for their chil­dren, in­stead they de­cided to ded­i­cate it to the mem­ory of all chil­dren.

From Our Dar­ling An­gels Day in mid-1998 to the de­sign and plan­ning of the play­ground over the course of a year, more than 125 peo­ple vol­un­teered over 1,600 hours to­ward the com­ple­tion of the project and raised the thou­sands of dol­lars needed to make their vision a re­al­ity.

The Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Play­ground in­cluded two play ar­eas — one for preschool­ers and one for older chil­dren. It had two swing ar­eas, a sand­box, a climb­ing struc­ture, a zip line, an over­head climber, a buck-about, benches, land­scap­ing and two struc­tures with slides and climb­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. It re­placed a play struc­ture that had been in­stalled in the early 1980s.

The play­ground was de­signed by the chil­dren of Queen Anne’s County for them­selves and the chil­dren of the fu­ture in mem­ory of chil­dren who have de­parted, Hafner said at the ded­i­ca­tion.

The county pro­vided a place for the play­ground and promised to main­tain it, Har­ri­son said.

She said she spent many hours sit­ting on Matthew’s bench, ded­i­cated by her Zaidee Lane neigh­bors, watch­ing her younger sons play at the play­ground or on the nearby ball fields. It gave her com­fort and helped her feel close to him.

Now she feels like she’s lost him all over again. “Matthew’s bench is in a land­fill some­where. They had just as well have gone to the grave­yard and knocked over his tomb­stone,” she said. “The com­mu­nity poured out their hearts and the county con­creted over it.”

Har­ri­son said she doesn’t un­der­stand why no at­tempt was made to con­tact the par­ents and of­fer them the op­por­tu­nity to save their me­mo­ri­als or take their benches rather than de­stroy them.

An­nette Sanger agreed. She posted on the Bay Times Face­book page Thurs­day, “I would have like to have had a phone call! I would love to have that bench. It was do­nated by the Kent Is­land Lit­tle league in mem­ory of the son I lost. Thanks for putting it in a land fill. I would ride my bike on the trail and stop to take a few min­utes to spend some­time where I could wish my son had a chance to play. I feel like I lost him a sec­ond time. It brings back just as much pain.”

John McQueeney Jr., who was county com­mis­sioner when the play­ground was ded­i­cated and one of the large donors, con­curred in an in­ter­view Satur­day, “I think they should have con­tacted the peo­ple be­fore­hand. … I think it wasn’t han­dled cor­rectly. It’s like the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was do­ing.”

Ge­orge O’Don­nell, also a com­mis­sioner when the Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Play­ground was built, said he thought it was un­usual that some­one didn’t say some­thing dur­ing the con­struc­tion phase (this spring) when they saw the me­mo­ri­als. “To think that you could just do away with these things — that’s a mis­take.”

Har­ri­son said Parks em­ploy­ees didn’t seem to know what the memo­rial play­ground was — they called it the Old Love Point Park play­ground.

The county com­mis­sion­ers is­sued an apol­ogy on Thurs­day, June 8, say­ing sec­tions of the play­ground had been lost or de­stroyed.

“This was not in­ten­tional or ma­li­cious, but sim­ply an over­sight due to the pass­ing of years and the lack of clear de­lin­eations of the me­mo­ri­als. The county did save the orig­i­nal ded­i­ca­tion sign which will be re­stored and re-ded­i­cated on site dur­ing the fu­ture un­veil­ing cer­e­mony for the play­ground,” the state­ment said.

The com­mis­sion­ers ex­tended con­do­lences to the fam­i­lies and friends af­fected by the de­struc­tion of the play­ground.

In an in­ter­view Mon­day, June 12, Parks Di­rec­tor Chip Price said it was not their in­ten­tion to get rid of the me­mo­ri­als.

“We didn’t have any pa­per­work that said what the memo­rial was,” Price said. They saved one sign and two of the orig­i­nal benches with the in­ten­tion of in­stalling new, metal memo­rial plaques on the new benches. “No­body re­ally knew who the par­ents were.”

When they started get­ting calls last week, Price said he went look­ing and found one sheet of pa­per with six names that he be­lieves are the names of the chil­dren for whom the benches were ded­i­cated.

None of the work­ers men­tioned the memo­rial squares; they didn’t see any­thing, Price said. “It’s a hard thing. We feel ter­ri­ble about it.” It’s all gone, Har­ri­son said. “... you can’t move the ce­ment em­bed­ded with baby names and hand­prints and donors’ lo­gos and mes­sages of peace and happy chil­dren at this park. We carved those mes­sages in ce­ment to last a life­time,” Har­ri­son said.

“We had left lots of things at our play­ground that folks could come and see and read any day. The en­grav­ings, the sign ac­knowl­edg­ing our donors and our chil­dren memo­ri­al­ized there. There was an­other plaque on the top of the ship. The ship of an­gels was the gi­ant piece of equip­ment. Our an­gels could sail off to the heav­ens. Each piece was cho­sen with care and sem­blance.”

And the new play struc­ture is only a frac­tion of the size, Har­ri­son said.

Price has only been with the county since 2015 and was un­fa­mil­iar with the his­tory of the Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Play­ground, but he did know it was a pop­u­lar play­ground.

The equip­ment at the park got lots of use, but it had de­vel­oped cracks and needed to be up­graded, he said.

The con­crete ac­cess ramp had been buck­led by tree roots and was no longer us­able, and the wood fiber fill­ing had mois­ture is­sues, he added.

They’ve in­stalled a newer safety sur­face, re­plac­ing the wood chips with rub­ber tile, a new, ac­ces­si­ble play struc­ture and a pavil­ion where par­ents can sit while chil­dren play or even hold a child’s birth­day party, Price said.

The new play­ground is part of an over­all ren­o­va­tion for Old Love Point Park that in­cludes up­grad­ing the con­ces­sion stand and bath­rooms, re­lo­cat­ing the Cross Is­land Trail out of the park­ing lot, re­do­ing the park­ing lot and mov­ing the re­cy­cling bins to Ter­rapin Park, Price said.

The com­mis­sion­ers have pledged to rec­og­nize the Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Play­ground con­trib­u­tors and re­mem­ber those who were memo­ri­al­ized there.

They are look­ing for a memo­rial that can be put in place and kept in place over time, maybe a wall with brass plaques that can be added to over time, Price said.

Par­ents who want their chil­dren in­cluded in the me­mo­ri­als can con­tact the Parks of­fice at 410-758-0835.

PHOTO BY AN­GELA PRICE

Elaine Har­ri­son points out the spot where her son Matthew’s memo­rial was lo­cated.

BAY TIMES PHOTO

Some 40 vol­un­teer worked to spread 8,100 cu­bic feet of mulch and three pickup loads of sand at the Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Play­gound at Old Love Point Park. Shown here, Jodie Corder and her 3-year-old son work hard Satur­day, Sept. 25, 1999, spread­ing mulch. The group put in some 250 hours. Steps re­main­ing are the com­ple­tion of the side­walk lead­ing to the park to make it hand­i­cap ac­ces­si­ble and one fi­nal load of mulch.

PHOTO BY ROSE G. SPIK

From left, County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Mark Belton, County Com­mis­sioner Ge­orge O’Don­nell, Martha Hafner, and County Com­mis­sion­ers John McQueeney Jr. and Mar­lene Davis cut the rib­bon to of­fi­cially open the Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Play­ground at Old Love Point Park.

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