By Nancy Bertrand
The Rockery, established as a European-style “Sylvan Glade,” had been in existence for over forty years when its nature was redefined with the addition of a war memorial and a piece of public sculpture.
Built around 1884, the Rockery was erected as an ornament to Main Street, loosely in tandem with the beautification of the Upper Common and the formal creation of the Lower Common (then commonly known as “the Park”). In 1926, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Richardson Light Guard, the town wanted to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the veterans who took part in the Spanish American War. Formal stairs were created for the Rockery with the motto ‘Philippines’ on the first step, ‘Porto Rico’ (sic) on the second step, and ‘Cuba’ on the third step. At the top of the stairs, a path was laid out, and a statue was erected.
Although many people still mistake the statue for a likeness of a Minuteman, the statue on the Rockery is actually called “The Hiker,” and is a memorial to American action in the Spanish American War, the Philippine insurrection and the China Relief expedition. The statue was created by sculptor Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson, the first woman to be admitted to the National Sculpture Society.
The Hiker, whose original had been created in 1906 for the University of Minnesota, became her most popular statue. Re-castings were done by the Gorham Co. of Providence, Rhode Island, and can be found in over 50 locations across the United States, including Massachusetts versions in Fall River, North Andover, Chelsea, Woburn, Everett and Malden.
Theo Alice Ruggles (1871-1932) was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. She had showed great artistic promise even as a child but was too young to be allowed to enter the art school at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Instead, she began studying with 20-year old English sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson. When his work took him to Paris, she and her mother moved there as well, so that she could continue her studies. While in Paris, she also studied with both the painter Pascal and the sculptors Dagnan-Bouveret and Gustave Courtois. In 1893 she married Henry Hudson Kitson. Theo found great success with her war memorials and equestrian statues. Among other honors, she won a bronze metal at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. In 1909, she separated from her husband, but the couple never divorced. Her statue of Thaddeus Kosciusko can be found in the Boston Public Garden, as well as a statue of Boston’s second Irish mayor, Patrick Collins, that was sculpted by Theo with her husband.
The installation of the Hiker Memorial statue on the Rockery in Wakefield was a day of great celebration for the Town. On Columbus Day in 1926, a special ceremony took place at the Rockery, presided over by Colonel Edward Gihon, past commander of the Richardson Light Guard and chairman of the committee appointed by the town to procure and dedicate the monument. The ceremonies began with an invocation by the Reverend Florence Halloran of St. Joseph Church; the statue was accepted on behalf of the town by Selectman Charles F. Young, a World War I veteran. After further exercises, a “fervent benediction” was delivered by Rev. Austin Rice of the First Parish Congregational Church. The day of celebrations continued with a reunion of war veterans, a banquet at the Armory, and an evening parade, all coordinated by the Charles F. Parker Camp No. 39, U.S.W.V.
The Rockery has been lovingly tended by the Wakefield Center Neighborhood Association since the group rebuilt the Rockery Fountain in 1984. The careful plantings and irrigated lawn have proven the Citizen and Banner’s 1884 words prophetic: it is “the oasis of Main Street,” and a testament to civic pride, just as the ever-vigilant Hiker is a testament to the Town’s esteem for the generations of Wakefield’s citizens who have served in their country’s military.