Candles lined Wiscasset’s Main Street for Route 1 motorists to see on Tuesday, Jan. 19 and, at 5:30 p.m., the sound of church bells tolling echoed through town. It was a time of remembrance in honor of the lives lost to COVID-19.
Similar observances were being held simultaneously nationwide at places of worship and communities large and small. The solemn tributes were in response to a request by the Biden-Harris Inaugural Committee for a “national moment of unity and remembrance.”
“We wanted to do something here in Lincoln County and a drive-by memorial would be a good way to remember the more than 500 Mainers and 400,000 Americans we've lost to this illness,” Kelli Whitlock Burton of Waldoboro wrote in an email to Wiscasset Newspaper. She was one of the vigil’s organizers. Others pitching in were Wiscasset residents Terry Heller, Tom Eichler and Wendy Ross.
Heller said the white luminarias (candles placed in bags) used to line Main and Federal streets as part of the remembrance were donated by two residents who wished to remain anonymous. Organizers had planned to hold their memorial on Wiscasset’s town common in front of First Congregational Church. The recent wet weather caused them to move the observance downtown which turned out to be a better location for visibility.
“Meeting downtown on the business block will allow our volunteers to be on sidewalks, socially distanced, and will make the signs more visible to traffic,” stated Whitlock Burton Tuesday morning.
Over 30 people from Lincoln County and beyond began gathering at around dusk. Bundled up against the chilly air and all wearing face masks, they stood silently holding hand-drawn signs representing every Maine county and the number of COVID-19 deaths there. It created a compelling visual image.
“This Wiscasset memorial was organized by residents of Lincoln County, not by any specific organization,” continued Whitlock Burton. “People from Bristol, Bremen, Boothbay, Edgecomb, Waldoboro and Wiscasset were all planning to take part.”
Motorists in both lanes slowed down as they passed. Many waved, and some tooted their horns to show their support for the tribute.
First Congregational, St. Phillips Episcopal Church and Edgecomb Community Church joined other denominations from around Maine and across the nation in tolling their bells in remembrance of the 400,000 Americans who have lost their lives during the nearly year-long pandemic.
Heller noted Steve and Colleen Kearney-Graffam, owners of the private chapel on Federal Street, were asked to ring their steeple bell and did so. On Federal Street, Sherri Dunbar and Peter and Terri Wells were helping line both sides of the street with candles placed in paper bags.
Whitlock Burton wrote, “The most important thing people can do to show support for the families of those we've lost to COVID-19 is to take the recommended steps to protect themselves and others: Wear a mask, socially distance, avoid indoor gatherings with people outside your home, stay home if you have symptoms of COVID-19, and get the vaccine as soon as you are eligible to do so.
“With highly effective vaccines, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But we are not there yet. By working together, following guidelines, and supporting others in our communities, we will reach the end of that tunnel faster and with less sorrow,” she added.