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Residents Want Mary’s Little Lamb Back

July 9, 1990

STERLING, Mass. (AP) _ Authorities can’t find rhyme or reason to the theft of a statue commemorating the little lamb that followed 19th-century resident Mary Sawyer to school one day.

The heist has vexed some residents who believe they’ve been robbed of a piece of history.

″I can’t understand anybody taking it,″ said Karen Gaylord, a 20-year resident and part-time spokeswoman for the Sterling Police Department. ″It has great historical value to the town, but it’s not something that you could sell.″

The concrete statute of the lamb hads stood on the town common since the early 1960s and was a fixture of this central Massachusetts town of 6,000, said Ruth Hopfmann of the Sterling Historical Society.

″Innumerable people have stopped and gotten out of the car with their children to see what the little animal was. It really has attracted a lot of attention over the past 30 years,″ she said.

Police theorize vandals removed the statue by rocking it back and forth. The legs already were crumbling at the base, Gaylord said. The statue was taken during the night of July 1, and a search has revealed no clues, she said.

″We’ve been in dumpsters and behind buildings. We’ve been everywhere,″ she said.

The society already was planning a new statue and has raised about $7,000 toward that, but Mrs. Hopfmann said residents had hoped to install the original version among the society’s collection of artifacts.

The statue was donated in 1962 by summer resident Alfred Altman, who was president of the National Dairymen’s Association in New York.

The legend dates to about 1816, when Mary Elizabeth Sawyer’s little lamb followed her to school, Mrs. Hopfmann said. The child hid the lamb under her desk but when she went to the front of the class it followed her, was discovered and banished to a shed.

John Roulstone, a young man visiting the school that day commemorated the event with three verses and in 1830 those were included in a book of poems compiled by magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale, who added several more verses to the nursery rhyme.

The lamb met with the sad fate of being gored by a cow, but its fleece lived on in the form of two pairs of stockings. The legend resurfaced in 1883 when Mary Sawyer, seeking to raise money to save Boston’s Old South Church, sold cards carrying the story of the verse and wrapped with pieces of yarn from the unraveled stockings.

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