Conny, the cement statue of a sperm whale that has become the iconic image of The Children’s Museum in West Hartford, will need a new home once a new development is underway on the current Trout Brook Drive site.
By Ronni Newton
The Cetacean Society built Conny as a visible symbol of the organization’s “Save the Whale” effort, and now they will garner their efforts to save Conny, the organization’s president said.
David Kaplan, an attorney who lives in West Hartford, is president of the all-volunteer group Cetacean Society International, which back in the 1970s, when it was still known as the Connecticut Cetacean Society, built the 45,000-pound, 62-foot-long replica of a giant sperm whale by hand in 1975-1976. It’s constructed of cement, with a steel frame.
The whale’s name, Conny, is short for “Connecticut.”
Many of those original volunteers returned in 2016, for Conny’s 40th birthday party.
Building Conny was serious business, and Kaplan is determined to find a new home for the sculpture now that it appears it will not be staying with The Children’s Museum when vacates the current site as early as this summer. Plans for Kingswood Oxford School, which now owns the land where Conny and The Children’s Museum and its preschool sit, to sell the property to Continental Properties for development of multifamily housing, were announced last week.
“We didn’t build it to be a playscape,” Kaplan said. “We built it to draw attention to the danger whales faced.” Conny, however, has become synonymous with The Children’s Museum and even appears on its logo.
Kaplan said the Cetacean Society has known for years that Conny would likely need to be relocated at some point, and was prepared to launch a fundraiser for the move, but he believed, up until the plans were announced last week, that the whale would go wherever The Children’s Museum went.
Michael Werle, executive director of The Children’s Museum, indicated it would be unlikely that Conny would be moving with the museum exhibits and preschool, particularly since an initial move would be to temporary quarters while a final destination is created. Neither the temporary nor permanent locations have been announced.
“Conny is interesting,” Werle told We-Ha.com last week. “It’s a conundrum we’re struggling with.”
“We harbor Conny, but we don’t feel we own Conny,” Werle said. “There’s a significant and broader ownership than us.” He said he would not want to see Conny destroyed.
Werle said there are numerous organizations, including Cetacean Society International, that have a vested interest in the sculpture. No one really knows who technically owns it.
Cost estimates are in the $175,000 to $200,000 range, but according to Kaplan, that’s based on moving the whale only a mile or so. Initially they thought The Children’s Museum might be moving to the former UConn campus property, and renderings were prepared for that possibility, with Conny prominently featured.
“Now we’re back to square one,” said Kaplan. Cetacean Society International’s priorities are now focused on finding Conny a new home, raising funds for a move, and launching a groundswell of community support to assist. He doesn’t think the latter will be difficult, since everyone seems to love the whale.
Kaplan said he’s been told there has already been a commitment for a $50,000 donation to pay for the move, but the cost of the move could change dramatically if a nearby location can’t be found.
Ideally, he said, the whale would be able to find a new home in West Hartford where it can continue to be appreciated by the community and used for educational purposes. According to information he’s received, the whale could be transported by truck, but moving it would involve removing its tail, Kaplan said. The shorter the distance the better.
“Conny is an icon and means a lot to many of our residents – especially our young adults that grew up enjoying Conny,” Mayor Shari Cantor told We-Ha.com. “We hope we can come up with a collaborative plan with support from our residents and find a new home for Conny.”
A “Save Conny the Whale and the Children’s Museum” change.org petition, launched by the West End Civic Association, has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
Dr. Robbins Barstow, a co-founder of the Cetacean Society, was the inspiration behind Conny, Kaplan said. His goal was to draw attention to the plight of the whales and have the sperm whale chosen as a state symbol. At the time, many members of the board at The Children’s Museum were also part of “Save the Whale” efforts, and embraced the opportunity to have the statue on the campus, which was owned by the Museum at the time.
“We could say we own the whale, but we don’t have a home,” said Kaplan of the Cetacean Society International. The headquarters is at his West Hartford house, and pre-pandemic they would hold meetings at The Children’s Museum, but those meetings are now virtual.
Conny was constructed as the “Save the Whale” movement was beginning, and that movement still exists, Kaplan said. As far as he knows, Conny is the only concrete statue of a sperm whale anywhere in the world.
“We save real whales, but now we’ve got to save a concrete whale, too,” Kaplan said. “We have to find a way.”
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