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The memorials of my coronavirus walks

I've learned a lot on my many long walks during this pause for coronavirus, and I realize you see a lot more as you slow down.

I never knew, for instance, until a walk around Groton's Avery Point, once the home of a Coast Guard training station, that there is a grave there for a Coast Guard mascot named Duffy.

Duffy is buried on a small bluff next to the water, with a headstone dated 1947. There's also little statue of a dog with bulldog ears, red tongue out, and a few flags, indicating that the grave is still tended after all these years. Duffy must have been much loved.

It was the first of many touching and instructive memorials I've encountered on my walks, some of them evocative touchstones of the region's history.

On the Fort Trumbull peninsula in New London is one from recent memory, a bronze plaque honoring Margherita Cristofaro, the matriarch of a family that lost a home in the neighborhood to eminent domain.

She died during the long fight that eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the placement of the plaque was negotiated in a final settlement with the Cristofaro family.

It says she and her family "made significant contributions to the Italian-American community, sacrificing two family homes to the eminent domain process."

Not far from her bronze plaque is a large monument to World War II veterans who had attended the United State Maritime Service Officers School, which was once located at Fort Trumbull.

"How Sleep the Brave who Sink to Rest ... " is enshrined in the impressive stone monument that lists 125 graduates of the school who gave their lives in the war.

In Stonington Borough, on my new, slower walking pace, I studied for the first time the monument at Cannon Square dedicated to the "DEFENDERS OF THE FORT" who, on Aug. 10, 1814, "NAILED THE FLAG TO THE MAST," the storied naval expression for refusing to surrender.

In this case, it was a stubborn fight in which Stonington's defenders prevailed against the much greater firepower of the attacking British fleet.

On a shortcut through St. Mary's Cemetery on Route 1 in Stonington, I came upon a familiar local name that not that long ago became national television tabloid fodder. BUCK is chiseled in big letters on the stone.

Charles Buck was found not guilty of murdering his wife, Leslie, in 2010. Prosecutors waited years after she was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their Stonington home to charge Buck, eventually accusing him of striking her with a club fashioned out of heavy electric wire that they said he dubbed "The Equalizer."

The birth and death dates for Leslie, a much-loved Stonington schoolteacher, 1945 to 2002, are listed on the stone. Those for Charles, who died after a fall in 2016, include only his birth year, 1946.

I assume he is not buried there. I can only wonder if he ordered his name on the stone when his wife was buried, long before he was charged with her murder.

I decided to continue my graves tour and headed to the handsome Stonington Cemetery on Main Street, where I paid my respects at the grave of Stonington's Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill, who is buried alongside his longtime partner, David Jackson. I picked up a few branches and sticks that must have come down on the graves from a storm.

I left some sprigs of spring flowers on the nearby grave of Merrill's friend, the acclaimed poet J.D. McClatchy.

I went to McClatchy's memorial service in 2018, and those attending were informed at the end that he had left instructions for a reception to which all were invited and for which no expense was to be spared.

He arranged to live on as his always generous and gracious self.

Not far away from poet's corner in the cemetery is a stone for Michael Blair, a former Stonington Borough warden who, sadly, died at the age of 63 in 2016.

"He always walked on the bright side of the road," his headstone reads, a sunny reminder of the smiling optimism of the native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, a spirit that seemed to me that day to be especially encouraging, in these strange times.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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