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State Approves Funding to Support Installation of Conny the Whale’s Tail in West Hartford

The tail of Conny the whale was successfully severed and removed from the former Children's Museum Property in West Hartford on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The State of Connecticut’s Department of Economic Development will provide $38,000 for the installation of Conny’s tail along the Trout Brook Greenway in West Hartford.

A hillock behind Whole Foods, just north of the intersection of Trout Brook Drive and Memorial Road, has been identified as the site for the installation of Conny’s tail. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Whales propel themselves forward by flexing their tails up and down, and members of Cetacean Society International (CSI) are excited that state leaders will support the continued movement of Conny’s tail by providing $38,000 to install the 8,500-pound cement structure on a hillock along the Trout Brook Greenway in West Hartford.

The appropriation of the funds from the State of Connecticut’s Department of Economic Development, secured with the assistance of Speaker of the House Matt Ritter (D-Hartford), was announced Friday.

“We’re really pleased, and we appreciate the work of Matt Ritter, who is really the hero here,” Dan Barstow, a member of the CSI Board of Directors, said Friday, adding that much credit for securing the funds also goes to CSI President Jessica Dickens for her pivotal support of the plan to save and relocate Conny’s tail.

Barstow’s father was Dr. Robbins Barstow, co-founder of what was then the Connecticut Cetacean Society and is now CSI. Barstow’s father led the effort to build Conny – nicknamed for “Connecticut” – in West Hartford, using all volunteers, and donated materials. Construction of Conny, which was made from concrete attached to rebar (structural steel), was completed in 1976.

“I want to thank the Cetacean Society International for being the driving force behind this project to keep Conny’s legacy alive and inspire generations to come,” Ritter said in a statement Friday. “I was proud to work with the West Hartford legislative delegation and DECD to ensure this funding made it to the finish line.”

With the imminent start of demolition to commence a development project by Continental Properties on the site of the former Children’s Museum at 950 Trout Brook Drive, it was announced by CSI in April that just the tail of Conny would be saved.

The remainder of Conny was demolished in April, and demolition of the former Children’s Museum building at 950 Trout Brook Drive is underway. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

At that time, the “Save Conny the Whale!” GoFundMe campaign that CSI had launched in September 2022 had raised just $11,810 toward an estimate of $200,000 to $250,000 to move the entire 60-foot, 20-ton life-size replica of a giant sperm whale that had stood sentry in front of the Children’s Museum since the mid-1970s. In addition, no one knew for sure if the move could even be accomplished without damaging the entire structure.

A roughly 25-foot section of the whale, which included its fluke, was successfully severed in April, and transported to the West Hartford Department of Public Works campus on Brixton Street, where it remains safely in storage.

Conny’s tail was placed in storage at the West Hartford Department of Public Works after its removal in April. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The removal of the tail was a true collaboration, led by CSI, Continental Properties, Connecticut Landscape Solutions, the Town of West Hartford, the Children’s Museum, and Kingswood Oxford School. Crews from Zarrella Demolition did the actual cutting with a standard circular saw, and Walker Crane & Rigging Corp. handled the physical move, and built a frame to support the tail while it was being transported across town on the flatbed.

Conny’s tail, on the back of a flatbed truck, heads down Trout Brook Drive. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Continental Properties, now the owner of the former Children’s Museum property and developer of a 172-unit luxury apartment building on the site, covered the cost of cutting off Conny’s tail and moving it to Public Works.

The $38,000 from the state, plus the money raised through the GoFundMe campaign – which now totals $12,325 – will pay for the installation.

The next step is doing a soil test, Barstow said, to ensure the ground where CSI intends to install the tail is solid and not located directly above a cement tunnel that runs through the area near Trout Brook. After considering placing the tail in several areas between the brook itself and Trout Brook Drive – across from its former location – the small hill behind Whole Foods that is closes to Memorial Road seems to be the best bet.

A hillock behind Whole Foods, just north of the intersection of Trout Brook Drive and Memorial Road, has been identified as the site for the installation of Conny’s tail. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Barstow said he likes the location because it has great visibility from Trout Brook Drive. The vision is to “look like Conny’s just swimming away to freedom and the spirit of Conny stays alive,” Barstow said on the day of the tail’s removal. “We’re going to have it landscaped to look like waves are going around it, to really keep that spirit.”

Rendering of the vision for Conny’s tail on the greenway on the west side of Trout Brook Drive. Courtesy of Cetacean Society (we-ha.co file photo)

“We expect to do the [soil] test next week,” Barstow said Friday, and then begin the next phase of permitting.

The process has taken a little bit longer than expected, he said, so the work may not be completed this summer as planned, but Barstow is very pleased that plans for the sculpture and educational installation along the greenway are moving ahead.

“We want to make sure that the design we have will be stable and solid,” he said.

A news release from CSI on Friday noted that “Conny is a reminder that although we may not always be able to win the battle for whale conservation, we can still make progress. This next stage of Conny will remain a symbol of conservation, a beloved part West Hartford’s history, and a symbol of the community’s commitment to protecting wildlife and the environment.”

For more information about CSI, a nonprofit conservation, education, and research organization focused on cetaceans, visit the website or email [email protected].

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