The signs are simple, but send a succinct patriotic message: “Land of the Free” and “Home of the Brave.”
Doug Thorpe first painted them in his living room in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He initially erected them at the intersection of Route 7 and Pangburn Road as a visual representation of the patriotism he felt just two days after the World Trade Center collapsed.
“It was just a feeling that was in me to do something,” he said Wednesday. “It was my own patriotic thing to do to show my support.”
Yet the boards came to mean much more to residents and others passing through Princetown. Within days of them going up, hand-written patriotic messages filled just about every inch of the massive boards. Touched by the outpouring, Thorpe decided to add another board, only without any message on it. And within a few days, it was filled too.
By November 2001, the display extended for 96 feet. Each segment contained hundreds of messages from people clearly trying to cope with a national tragedy, yet seemingly imbued with a reinvigorated sense of patriotism.
“It’s sad it took this tragedy to get us together, but we will never part again,” reads one comment.
“Why not stop and say thank you to a firefighter or rescue worker you know from the job they do every day,” reads another.
The boards eventually came down after they were tagged with graffiti. But Thorpe decided to save them and found a spot at Town Hall to stow them for the better part of a decade.
Now with the 10th anniversary of the tragedy on the horizon, Thorpe has decided to bring the boards back out for public display near the town’s offices. He’s also added new blank segments so that residents and others observing the anniversary next month will have a space to express their feelings in writing.
The exhibit is now 145 feet across and stands in a grassy area on Route 7, near Charlew Builders, which allowed him to use the land. The site is less than a half-mile from the original display. Thorpe fashioned a flag pole out of steel he had at his home and plans to raise an American flag from the center of the makeshift monument.
Crushed stone paths will extend along the edges of the boards so that disabled people will be able to traverse the ground. Local businesses donated all the equipment and materials for the display, which is only intended to be temporary to coincide with the Princetown Civic Committee’s observance on Sept. 11.
Thorpe hopes to have the area finished by next week. Once work is done, he plans to hang permanent markers from the boards for people to begin filling up the new segments.
The old boards were signed by youths and the elderly alike. Thorpe said some of the residents who inked messages back then have since died, while others have grown to adulthood.
“The words there are very, very powerful,” he said.
They’re also faded, so it’s sometimes difficult to read the messages. Thorpe said that doesn’t mean they don’t still resonate deeply.
“As time goes on, everything fades,” he said. “But their message is still strong. It’s strong and vibrant.”