August 16, 1999
Philip Stern in Market Square at stone with inscription he composed in 1975.
For 24 years, people
have walked across the poetic inscription carved in granite in Newburyport's
Market Square, often oblivious to the words below their feet.
Philip J. Stern's
name was added last month to the marker --- some 2-1/2 decades after
it was first installed in the brick bullnose in Market Square.
To the 88-year-old Stern, the addition of his name was unnecessary, a bit eerie to see etched in stone, yet gratifying at the same time.
screaming, 'When's my name going to be on it," He said, "But
now that it's been done, I like it."
Sitting in the
home's parlor last week, with his wife of 62 years, Stern is surrounded
by paintings of former students and local artists and an eclectic collection
of decorative pieces acquired on travels near and far.
Stern learned of a city-wide contest to develop the wording for a new marker in the square, and decided to enter.
"It was a
challenge I couldn't resist," he said. "It was like working on
a crossword puzzle, I got hung up on it."
His wife became a sounding board for his ideas and revisions. Handwritten worksheets containing phrases and words like liberty, freedom and fury cries filled several pieces of note paper before the final work was complete.
"He would read to me every night," said Maria Stern. "I would say, 'That's good. That's not good. I don't like that word."
In the end, Stern
needed just 138 characters to convey his message.
The burning of tea as a protest, he figured, is something that all ages can understand.
But the man who grew up in a Hungarian neighborhood in the Bronx also wanted to interject his own feelings into the limited number of words --- he and his wife's love for the sea and the hospitality the city has provided them.
All of the elements, he said, went into the planning of the verse.
"It's more than just a message," he said. "It's a reflection of a lifestyle."
Stern's entry was
selected from 58 submissions to fill the large circular marker. The
words are set around an historic compass design based on actual compasses
from the collection of the Historical Society of Old Newbury.
He attended the July 1975 dedication that included then Gov. Michael Dukasis and Mayor Byron Matthews and coincided with the Bicentennial and Newburyport's annual Yankee Homecoming celebration.
"Newburyport opened up a new life for Maria and myself," said Stern this week, "and I wanted to use the inscription to say 'thank you' to Newburyport for opening my eyes to new things that I had never thought of."
History and knowledge
are critical to the Sterns. Soon after their arrival in Newburyport,
they began poring through books and accounts to learn more about their
community, its history and the famous people who made it to their home.
"Over the years, they have been approached to lend their energy and knowledge to various cultural and community groups in town.
He joined the Society
for the Development of Arts and Humanities as it was forming and served
for many hears. He also belongs to the Newburyport Art Association,
and is a former member of the Newbury Arts Lottery (now Cultural) Council.
She was one of the first presidents of the Newburyport Music Society and still teaches piano.
Known for speaking out on issues they believe strongly in, they were both part of the Committee for an Open Waterfront from its start.
Today, Stern is fearful the city will grow to such a degree that it will lose the very thing that attracted him and his wife here years ago --- its historic charm.
He takes pride in seeing the city's past remaining such a visible part of its present, and he hopes, the future.
"You can be
just an ordinary person here, but you're never ordinary. You're significant,"
he said. "I don't know if I've every walked around the city with
visitors and not felt the same spirit they feel.
|(This article replicated online with permission of the Newburyport Daily News, an Eagle Tribune Newspaper.)|