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Save the tail, demolish the whale. Conny, a 20-ton West Hartford sculpture, is disassembled

A worker with a concrete saw gives the thumbs up while cutting into the tail of 20-ton Conny The Whale April 11, 2023, at the Children's Museum in West Hartford, CT.
Ayannah Brown
Connecticut Public
A worker with a concrete saw gives the thumbs-up while cutting into the tail of 20-ton Conny the whale on April 11, 2023, at the Children's Museum in West Hartford, Conn.

Conny the whale, a 60-foot-long statue that sat outside the Children’s Museum in West Hartford, was disassembled Tuesday, with plans to rehome the whale’s tail in a display across the street.

For more than 40 years, the model sperm whale was a symbol of nature’s size and wonder that inspired children and adults.

As Conny’s tail was cut with a chain saw, Dan Barstow, the son of Conny’s creator, Rob Barstow, recalled the sculpture’s construction in 1976 by the Connecticut Cetacean Society (now named Cetacean Society International).

He said tremendous detail went into the work.

“Many people were there, all these volunteers who were building the wooden frame and putting the iron rods to shape it,” Barstow said. “We had an engineer, whale experts, all designed to have all the proportions correct. We put the cement on by hand and then colored it this natural color.”

The tail, which alone weighed 8,500 pounds, was severed from the whale’s body as Barstow, residents and members of the Cetacean Society looked on. It was moved and placed in storage at the town of West Hartford’s Public Works facility on Brixton Street, according to the society.

Originally, the plan was to save the entire sculpture and move it across the street, but Cetacean Society President Jessica Dickens said that would have cost about $250,000.

Workers remove the tail from Conny The Whale at The Children's Museum in West Hartford, CT.
Ayannah Brown
Connecticut Public
Workers remove the tail from Conny the whale at the Children's Museum in West Hartford, Conn.

“The costs were too exponential. We think this is a great way to preserve Conny’s legacy by preserving the tail,” Dickens said.

So far more than 250 individual donors contributed about $12,000 to a fund dedicated to preserving the sculpture.

Barstow, who is also a member of the society, agreed that moving the whale wasn’t a justifiable expense.

“This solution is really a wonderful solution,” Barstow said. “It’s a coming together of all the people around the town who … grew up with Conny and feel this is a special animal.”

While the outside was intrinsically detailed, Conny’s inside was hollow, allowing visitors to explore, play and wonder what it would be like to be inside a whale’s stomach.

As a teacher in a Hartford school, Barstow would bring his students to visit Conny and learn about the sperm whale and the state’s whaling history.

Conny was inspired by the Connecticut General Assembly’s 1975 proclamation designating the sperm whale as the state animal due to its contribution to the state’s history and its plight as an endangered species.

Continental Properties, the new owners of the former Children’s Museum property, paid for the costs to successfully remove Conny’s tail and transport it to Brixton Street. A multifamily community will be built on the site.

Pending town approval, Conny’s tail will move across the street from his former home, planted tail-skyward in West Hartford’s Trout Brook Greenway.

Workers remove Conny the Whale's tale at The Children's Museum in West Hartford, CT.
Ayannah Brown
Connecticut Public
Workers prepare to remove Conny's 8,500-pound tail.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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