The Saga Of A Prideful Monument In Sag Harbor

The rainbow tower in Sag Harbor. BRYAN BOYHAN

In motion pictures, the term “persistence of vision” is often used to partially explain the illusion that consistent motion is occurring even though there are, in fact, 24 individual still images passing a projector’s lens to create one second of “motion.”

With apologies to whoever coined the phrase, what has occurred recently at the intersection of Long Beach Road and Noyac Road, at the circle adjacent to the Waterside condos, could be considered the persistence of double vision.

Sometime in June, apparently coinciding with Gay Pride Month, a structure appeared on the grassy intersection, let’s call it a rainbow tower, amid a small garden of other signs thanking various first responders and front line workers who were helping out at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tower was not related in any clear way to the other signs, other than it shared space with them and — I’m reading into this — shared a message of respect and hope, love and pride.

The tower — at about 8 feet high, truthfully a little on the short side, tower-wise — appeared one afternoon without fanfare. A man was spotted taking the panels from the back of a pickup truck, and in a short period of time the structure stood, a turquoise box with broad stripes painted around it on all four sides, like a band around a good cigar: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, all the colors of the rainbow, plus a stripe each of black and brown, underscoring its message of inclusivity and diversity. Again, I’m reading into this.

The tower stood for many weeks, along with the collection of other signs, which dwindled in number as the weeks went on, until only one sign, thanking “All of Our Heroes” remained. County employees — since the circle of land is county property — came and mowed around the two objects and it seemed they were becoming a regular part of the landscape — at least for the short term.

Then, one morning last week, the neighborhood awoke to find the sign and the tower vandalized, spray painted in scribbles and, ironically, the letters BLM scrawled onto the tower. Ironically, of course, because of the black and brown stripes painted on it.

That day, Facebook posts bemoaned the graffiti and calls went out to have the sign and the tower repainted. Plans were hastily made by some who had no real connection to the tower, other than appreciating its message, and the small group decided to meet the following day with brushes and cans of paint of many colors in order to undo what the vandals had done.

But then, before any of the Facebookers could get to the intersection, something interesting happened.

Sometime that night, in the dark, two men appeared and began to repair the colors on the tower. And, as captured in a video by Minerva Perez, who was on her way home and stopped at the curious sight, a police officer shone the light from his police cruiser on the tower, helping the two men to see their work more clearly.

The tower, observed Ms. Perez on her video post, was a sign that all people should feel welcome here, “and they are not going to let it be grafittied.”

And so, as the new day broke, a freshly repainted rainbow tower welcomed travelers through the intersection.

That was, until workers from the Suffolk County Highway Department arrived last Friday to remove the structure; unceremoniously, said some.

“They just cut it up in front of me,” said Helen Samuels, who had stopped to ask if the structure couldn’t simply be put to the side of the road.

“No,” apparently was the answer. The tower was carted off, in pieces, along with the sign that read “Thank You All of Our Heroes,” in the back of a county truck.

Truth be told, there was no permit for the rainbow tower, just as there are no permits for many of the signs that appear on that circle of grass. And, according Vanessa Rojano of Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming’s office, the highway department had been notified to remove the structure because of the graffiti and traffic safety issues.

The story could end here; but, whoever the artists were who created the rainbow tower, they were certainly persistent in their vision. On Monday, in time for the morning rush hour streaming past the intersection, stood not one, but two rainbow towers identical to the one that had been removed.

“The community there in Sag Harbor sounds like a community that is a very proud one,” said David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the LGBT Network, which has a center at the Old Whalers Church in the village. Mr. Kilmnick did not know who the artists were who created the tower, but said they were clearly “not going to be denied their right to show their pride.”

“It’s a message to the vandals: don’t mess with us,” he said.
He added that the fact that those who helped included members of law enforcement sent “a powerful message.”

On Tuesday, the remains of Hurricane Isaias brushed the East End delivering a smattering of rain and wind gusts up to 40 mph. As a precaution, the county’s highway department was to again return to the now twin rainbow towers, said Ms. Rojana.

“They do plan on removing it because of the hazard it presents,” she said, noting the possibility of high winds during the storm.

But, she said, the legislator’s office is willing to find a solution that is suitable for all.

“We don’t know who the artists are,” she said, “but if they contact the office, we’ll be happy to help them find a happy home for it.”

And, she added, “When they remove it, it will be done gently.”