The peace stone that was pulled by hand from Boston to Washington never made it to Arlington National Cemetery, its intended destination, and instead was hauled away by a tow truck yesterday after demonstrators gave it to the U.S. Park Police for safekeeping.
The organizers of the Stonewalk are members of the Peace Abbey, a Sherborn, Mass., interfaith center that promotes world peace. They had planned the pilgrimage for more than a year but arrived in town without authorization to place the granite memorial dedicated to civilian war victims in Arlington National Cemetery. Congress has to approve any additions to the cemetery and had not done so by yesterday.
A group of about 150 people escorted the one-ton memorial atop a 1,500-pound caisson partway across Memorial Bridge at noon yesterday before dropping the draw bars and leaving it in the roadway. They had been heading for the Lady Bird Johnson Park on the Virginia side of the bridge for a final rally when they abandoned the caisson.
"We stand here at the midpoint of the bridge to temporarily conclude that this stone has no home," said Lewis Randa, co-chairman of the memorial project. "We are temporarily suspending taking the only memorial to civilian war victims to Arlington."
Randa said the group members had found that their best friends on the 500-mile trip were the police in the towns and cities they passed through. Police provided protection the whole distance, as well as food and shelter when several churches failed to provide accommodations as promised.
Therefore, he said, he felt confident the U.S. Park Police who were escorting the group across the bridge would protect their memorial until they could arrange through Congress to have it placed at the cemetery.
Sgt. Rob McLean, a Park Police spokesman, said that the caisson and memorial were taken to a lot where police cruisers are kept and that it was secure there. He said they are required to hold any abandoned property for 60 days to give the owner time to claim it.
"In a high-profile case like this, we are unlikely to destroy the property at the end of that period," he said.
The group members had played mostly rock-and-roll music as they pulled the stone to Washington. Yesterday, they chose an ethereal composition that included drums, hand cymbals and chants, recorded for them by some nuns who had walked with them for several days.
As the caisson was pulled onto the flatbed tow truck, Randa reached inside and turned on the tape.
As the truck rumbled down the bridge and out of sight, the music could still be heard.
"Bye-bye, sweet stone," said Jim Goodnow, one of the six people who pushed and pulled the stone the whole distance. Around him, others wept.
Randa told people in the dispersing crowd to write to their representatives in Congress to demand the stone be allowed in the cemetery.
"We'll be back to finish this," he said. "Come back and join us then."