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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wilton’s historic ‘Dummy’ needs restoration

Jessie Salisbury

Wilton’s “Dummy,” the square metal signpost at the north end of Main Street that directs drivers to keep to the right, is once again in the news.

For someone who never speaks, he manages to make himself heard. ...

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Wilton’s “Dummy,” the square metal signpost at the north end of Main Street that directs drivers to keep to the right, is once again in the news.

For someone who never speaks, he manages to make himself heard.

The Dummy, last restored and repainted in 2006 as part of the rebuilding of Main Street, is rusty again, and the Main Street Association would like to do more than just paint it. Representatives told selectmen they would like to do a real restoration job.

The sign is affected by the weather and road salt, and needs better protection. They said several people have stepped forward with donations to “do the job right.”

Doing the “real job” isn’t in the budget, and selectmen are considering what to do.

Association members said it should be registered as a historic landmark because it may be the last one left in the country.

Not quite; there are some at Henry Ford’s Dearborn Village, and there are few others left in New Hampshire.

Researching “silent policemen in New Hampshire” doesn’t produce a lot of information. (One gets a lot of references to police being investigated and officials declining to talk). The town of Sandwich installed one in 1931. There is said to be one in Newport at the junction of Main and Sunapee streets. Wilton’s wasn’t mentioned at all, so there may be others in small towns somewhere.

The Sandwich history notes that in 1927, public safety became an issue as autos outnumbered horses in town for the first time: 295-215. Officials decided to put the “silent policemen” at crossroads to replace live officers directing traffic. That probably happened in Wilton, as well.

The Wilton Historical Society’s earliest picture is from about 1920. In a picture of the 1928 July 4 parade, “Slow, Keep Right” is painted on each side, while arrows pointing to Nashua, Boston, Manchester, Keene and Peterborough are shown on the two-step cement base. There was a round light on the top.

When the post was restored in 2006, the light was gone, the paint had peeled and the directional signs were not readable.

Wilton’s light was vandalized in the 1960s, replaced for a while by a light from a truck, and eventually just a coffee can inverted over the wires.

The current Dummy has a replica of the original made by Chuck Crawford and engineers at Kimball Physics. It flashes red on one side, yellow on the others.

The silent policeman was first patented in 1918, and an improved model was made in 1924 by J.A. Watts, of Pennsylvania. The original designation was “dumb,” meaning silent, policeman.

Some early models had adjustable arms to point out directions. Some early models had a kerosene lamp and some versions also served as a flagpole.

While state engineers were studying ways to improve Main Street in 2007, residents said repeatedly, “Don’t touch our Dummy.”

As David McBee, current president of the Main Street Association, recently told the Board of Selectmen, “We want to have the best Dummy in the world.”

In 2006, a pedestrian island was built around it and a garden installed. It now is surrounded by day lilies.

The Dummy is waiting for whatever restoration process officials agree on. It’s a touchy subject, but everybody loves the Dummy.

Keep up with the past with Another Perspective, which runs every other Sunday in The Telegraph. Jessie Salisbury can be reached at 654-9704 or