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Does Noah Webster’s Mask Speak Louder than his Words?

A masked Noah Webster stands sentry outside West Hartford's Noah Webster Library on South Main Street. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The Noah Webster statue outside the West Hartford Libraries main branch donned a mask Monday morning, a visible symbol promoting the wearing of masks in town.

West Hartford Department of Public Works employees place Noah Webster’s mask Monday morning in West Hartford Center. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

With a bit of assistance from two employees of the West Hartford Public Works Department, Noah Webster slipped his new mask over his sizable and very visible profile Monday morning.

The custom-made mask was carefully crafted by Kirsten Kilbourn, a staff member at the West Hartford Libraries’ Noah Webster Branch in the Center, and is promoting the town’s new public relations slogan encouraging the wearing of masks: “Wearing is Caring.”

Library staff member Kirsten Kilbourn at work creating Noah Webster’s mask. Courtesy photo

Martha Church, director of West Hartford Libraries, said that while Kilbourn has been sewing masks since the COVID-19 pandemic began, she had never made one to fit around a head that measures 47 inches in diameter, and has a nose-to-chin distance of 8 inches.

“She did a dynamite job,” Church said of the result, which was made from durable material – a cut-up reusable bag with the printed message: “I ♥ CT Libraries.”

“This is exactly what Noah would wear,” Church said, adding that the library association represents all libraries in the state. Noah Webster, whose name is synonymous with the dictionary, spelling (he created the first Blue Back speller, for which Blue Back Square was named), and the mission of education.

While Noah is the sentry as well as the namesake for West Hartford’s main library, the idea for masking him originally came from Andrew Piro, a West Hartford resident and reference librarian, who observed two other notable sentries wearing masks to send a strong message.

West Hartford Libraries Director Martha Church (left) with Andrew Piro, who holds Noah Webster’s mask before Public Works employees placed it on the statue Monday morning. Piro had the idea to put the mask on the town’s iconic statue. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“I saw at the New York Public Library they put masks on the lions,” Piro said Monday morning of Patience and Fortitude, the iconic marble sculptures that guard New York City’s 42nd Street library and have been masked since late June.

Town officials have asked that all pedestrians in West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square wear masks or other types of face coverings at all times – except while eating or drinking – because the narrow and busy sidewalks make it difficult to ensure that 6 feet of physical distance is maintained.

A masked Noah Webster stands sentry outside West Hartford’s Noah Webster Library on South Main Street. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Fire Department has recently launched a new bike team that operates in the Center and Blue Back Square on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons and evenings, not only so they can be more accessible to provide medical care but also speaking with anyone who is not wearing a face covering and offering to give them a free mask, as well as thanking those who are properly covering their faces.

Fire Inspector Marsha McCurdy Adell had made 900 contacts by 8 p.m. last Friday evening, and handed out 150 of the town’s “Wearing is Caring” buttons, West Hartford Public Relations Specialist Renée McCue said, “as part of our never-ending quest to get folks to wear a mask.” Posters with the same image and message are being distributed for stores and restaurants to put in their windows.

Fire Inspector Marsha McCurdy Adell hands out ‘Wearing is Caring’ buttons in West Hartford Center. Courtesy photo

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West Hartford Libraries Director Martha Church holds Noah Webster’s mask before Public Works employees placed it on the statue Monday morning. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A masked Noah Webster stands sentry outside West Hartford’s Noah Webster Library on South Main Street. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A masked Noah Webster stands sentry outside West Hartford’s Noah Webster Library on South Main Street. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A masked Noah Webster stands sentry outside West Hartford’s Noah Webster Library on South Main Street. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A masked Noah Webster stands sentry outside West Hartford’s Noah Webster Library on South Main Street. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A masked Noah Webster stands sentry outside West Hartford’s Noah Webster Library on South Main Street. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A masked Noah Webster stands sentry outside West Hartford’s Noah Webster Library on South Main Street. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Courtesy image

The bag that was cut up to create Noah Webster’s mask. Courtesy photo

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