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Challenger Seven Memorial Rededicated at New Site

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Mayor Anne Watson and Public Art Commission member Bob Hannum stand beside the Challenger Seven Memorial after the rededication ceremony on Thursday. Photo by Tom McKone.

Thirty-five years ago, Montpelier’s Challenger Seven Memorial was created and installed on National Life property. This fall, the two-toned granite monument was moved to a more visible and accessible location by Montpelier High School and the Siboinebi Path (aka the bike path). 

Thursday, three dozen people gathered in intermittent rain to rededicate the memorial to the seven astronauts, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, who died when the NASA shuttle exploded 73 seconds into launch on January 28, 1986.

“Today as we are gathered, we want to remember their sacrifice,” said Mayor Anne Watson, “that they gave their lives to the pursuit of knowledge.” Watson noted that some Montpelier students had corresponded with McAuliffe and were among the many across the country who were watching the launch live when the shuttle exploded. 

A physics and engineering teacher at the high school, Watson said that her classes study the Challenger explosion among case studies of engineering disasters.

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“It’s events like the Challenger disaster that remind us to be humble, to listen to the scientists and engineers so we can avoid the mistakes of the past,” she said. “But also to keep learning.”

Watson and Public Works Director Donna Barlow Casey both thanked the Montpelier Public Art Commission, commission member Bob Hannum, in particular, and National Life for paying for the move.

The two-part monument, which names the seven astronauts on a light gray granite and has a rendering of the Challenger space shuttle on black granite, was donated to the city by Victor and Evelyn Roselli, owners of Desilets Granite. Their son, Daniel, made the overall design, and Montpelier artist Ed Epstein drew and carved the Challenger image.

During its survey of local public artworks, the Public Art Commission “rediscovered” the monument and determined to make it more visible and accessible to the public. Hannum, who in addition to being on the commission, is an art conservator, took the lead in learning more about the monument and in moving it. 

The very accessible new location, at the edge of a Montpelier High School field and by the Siboinebi Path, is by a cluster of five pear trees, an apple tree, and some flower beds. The monument fits in so well that it looks like the site was designed specifically for it.

Hannum said the proximity to an apple tree is particularly appropriate. Up at National Life, each autumn since 1986, someone placed apples on the monument, as a tribute to McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher and first civilian on a space flight: the traditional apple for the teacher.