By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — SALISBURY BEACH — The controversial “Before I die” chalkboard project at Salisbury Beach Center has received a reprieve, after its major sponsor promised to put a halt to the obscenities and graffiti that had polluted the intent of the exhibit.
But for at least one beach resident, Mary Steinel-Andriotakis, the change of course by town officials is “outrageous.” The reversal by town officials is contrary to what was promised at the Board of Selectmen meeting Monday night.
Although many complained, beach residents Doris Steinel Fisette and her daughter, Steinel-Andriotakis, attended Monday’s meeting to ask selectmen to remove the display, saying graffiti caused by the art project had marred a memorial to Robert Steinel, Fisette’s late husband and Steinel-Andriotakis’ late father. Steinel was one of 129 men who died aboard the USS Thresher when the nuclear submarine sank during sea trials on April 10, 1963.
One of the chalkboard walls was erected 8 feet from the USS Thresher memorial.
The women said thoughtless people had written with the available colored chalk on Steinel’s memorial stone, drawn lewd pictures on the nearby sidewalk and had repeatedly written obscene comments of the chalkboard. They passed out pictures proving their statements, adding that the comments weren’t just offensive to them but to anyone seeing them, especially children.
Since Steinel died at sea, his daughter told selectmen, the memorial is the closest thing they have to a gravesite to visit and honor him. Fisette said she found the graffiti to be a symbol of disrespect for her late husband, who gave his life in defense of his country.
On the chalkboards after the phrase “Before I die I want to ... ,” most individuals wrote thoughtful phrases, like wanting to live in a world at peace. Others abused the system, writing obscene comments that Selectman Freeman Condon termed “despicable.”
Condon said the idea “wasn’t thought through” or sufficiently monitored by the Salisbury Beach Partnership, which is its originator.
By the end of the meeting, all five selectmen wanted the project stopped. Since the topic was not an action item on the meeting’s agenda but brought up by visitors, the board members said they couldn’t make a formal motion to have the boards removed. But they told Town Manager Neil Harrington to express the board’s displeasure to the partnership and urged the group to take it down.
But yesterday morning, when the chalkboard by Steinel’s memorial was removed and later placed elsewhere, Steinel-Andriotakis said she was very upset.
The partnership had voted to move the board away from the Steinel memorial last week, but poor weather pushed the date for that until yesterday — not soon enough for Fisette or Steinel-Andriotakis. But the partnership hadn’t planned to stop the project entirely, and following Monday’s meeting members contacted the selectmen.
Harrington said yesterday he was informed that the plans to take down the project had been altered after some selectmen changed their minds and agreed to move one chalkboard away from the memorial, but to leave the other board in place. They promised that the project would be better supervised by the partnership.
Selectman Fred Knowles and Condon confirmed Harrington’s comment.
Condon said Salisbury Beach Partnership president and Salisbury Beach businessman Wayne Capolupo contacted him, asking for another chance. Knowles said the same.
“After all the Capolupo family has done for Salisbury, I thought Wayne deserved a second chance,” Knowles said. “I asked Wayne how he’d like it if people wrote those terrible things on a chalkboard in front of one of his restaurants, and he agreed to move the wall away from the Steinel memorial and have someone police it properly.”
Condon’s discussion with Capolupo was similar, as was the result.
“He told me he was very sensitive to what happened on the board by the Steinel memorial,” Condon said. “He promised to move it and to have the boards monitored closely. He promised to be diligent and vigilant. I can’t speak for other selectmen, but I sent an email to the town manager saying I was willing to give it a second chance.”
For starters, both men said Capolupo promised the colored chalk used to write on the boards would be taken in at night, which is when most of the offensive writing occurred.
However, both Knowles and Condon said if the chalk graffiti and obscene comments return, all deals are off.
“If the obscenities return, I’ll make the motion myself to remove both boards,” Knowles added.