Newton is placing empty chairs — 157 as of Sunday — on the City Hall lawn to commemorate residents who died of COVID-19 and to serve as a reminder to follow safety guidelines and wear masks.
Mayor Ruthanne Fuller released a statement on Nov. 24 sharing her thoughts on the memorial prior to Thanksgiving. She said she understands the hardships families have been going through in her city and hopes the chairs prompt reflection and motivate residents to stay safe.
“As we pass by, we will remember that each empty chair reflects a life lost,” Fuller said in a statement. “Working together, #NewtonTogether, let’s honor each of these people by wearing masks, physically distancing, and doing our part, for each other, to keep our neighbors safe.”
As of Sunday, 157 Newton residents had lost their life to COVID-19.
Dana Hanson, the mayor’s director of community engagement & inclusion, said she and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Yeo were “solemnly” putting out additional chairs Dec. 11 when they “noticed walkers and passersby stopping and taking stock of what we were doing.”
“It was a very powerful reminder that each chair represents the life of a Newtonian who once walked or rode our streets, lived their lives here, and will be so deeply missed by their loved ones,” Hanson said in an email. “It is as important as ever to make sure that we are doing all that we can to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Jennifer Leone, a Newton resident, said she has not personally been affected by COVID-19, but she was glad the city created a memorial.
“It’s a terrible time that we’re going through,” Leone said. “It’s nice to remember the people who have died of this illness.”
Newton resident Michelle Lane said she had seen the note from the Mayor’s office about the memorial, and thought it was “a lovely idea.”
“It’s really tragic that all these people died,” Lane said. “But I think the town is doing a wonderful job of trying to mitigate the virus and to honor the people that have gotten sick or have passed away.
Newton established the memorial after an organization of COVID-19 survivors and families, COVID Survivors for Change, installed 20,000 chairs in Washington, D.C. Similar memorials have been popping up across the state, including Lawrence and Plymouth.
In her statement, Fuller said she sees the pain and suffering in her community.
“We have lost so many we loved,” she said.
Nick Telesmanic and Gabriel Harrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.