DANBURY Uncle Sam is coming home
DANBURY — The iconic Uncle Sam statue that once towered over the Danbury Fair will return home this fall.
Mayor Mark Boughton announced this week he has struck a deal to buy back the 38-foot-tall figure from its current home at the Magic Forest family amusement park in Lake George, N.Y.
There the humungous patriot has entertained thousands since the last Danbury Fair closed 36 years ago. But it’s time to return the famed piece back to its rightful home, Boughton and Magic Forest owner Jack Gillette agreed.
“Danbury — that fair in 1981 and ’82 — (and) the things I bought took my amusement park to another level and allowed me to go even beyond that in two or three years,” said Jack Gillette, the longtime owner of the Magic Forest. “It really made my park. I thought it’s only fitting for it to go back.”
The $50,000 deal includes Uncle Sam, his fencing and the massive steel pole that helps keep him upright, plus the Cinderella exhibit that was built on the Danbury fairgrounds decades ago and is still in “great” condition, Boughton and Gillette said.
City leaders have not decided where Uncle Sam’s should go when he returns to Danbury, but Boughton has suggested they are looking at locations visible from Interstate 84.
It likely will cost another $50,000 to $100,000 to transport, refurbish, install and light the massive pieces, Boughton estimated.
Several businesses have pledged donations, including one to help design the statue’s base and another fiberglass expert who will work to restore, paint and seal the fiberglass statue against the elements, Boughton said. Another yet-unnamed business has pledged $25,000 in cash for the project, he added.
The city is asking residents to try to raise as much as $50,000 for the effort with a new GoFundMe campaign online and the city will plan to cover the remainder of the costs, Boughton said.
“The mayor had fun up here and I made him a good package that I don’t think he could have refused,” Gillette said. “I am ecstatic it’s going back to Danbury.”
For Gillette, sending Uncle Sam “back home” marks the end of a chapter for his family’s amusement park — he is selling the business to the son of a family friend who will re-theme the park and replace many of the rides and attractions.
He bought Uncle Sam and 20 truckloads of other Danbury Fair treasures at the one-week auction in April 1982 after the fair closed for the last time. He still has 235 pieces from the fair in Lake George, including the 18-foot-tall Hansel and Gretel statues and one depicting “There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.”
Danbury Public Works Director Antonio Iadarola laughed recently when asked how the statue will need to be transported. He and his children stopped by the park in August to see Uncle Sam while on a family vacation and he and Gillette discussed how to cut the statue of its base and disassemble several of its pieces — including Sam’s huge hat, which is bolted onto his head.
“I suppose you need a crane, but I bought it laying down at the fairgrounds,” Gillette said. “This is going to sound strange, but I’ve put it up twice in my lifetime and I’ve never taken it down. It got pulled down by vandals once.”
In 1995, a group of teenagers sneaked on to the property and toppled Uncle Sam by breaking him off at the ankles. Gillette doesn’t suggest that method for Iadarola and his team, but he does know where the breaks were and will help them spot the places on the statue to be ginger and make repairs, he said.
The city of Troy, N.Y., also had been interested in buying the statue this summer, Boughton and Gillette said. That is where meat packer Samuel Wilson lived, whom legend has it is the inspiration behind Uncle Sam, but Gillette preferred to send the statue back to its original home in Danbury instead.
“It’s going to be a project, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Boughton said. “So the next Fourth of July we’d like to unveil him and have a big event to celebrate the fair, so we’ve got that going for us.”