Volunteers climb up Mount Tom, scrub away hateful graffiti

  • Damien Johnson, Tom Peake and Ed Mooers clean graffiti off the rocks on Mount Tom Friday morning. Caitlin Ashworth

  • Ed Mooers looking out at the city of Easthampton as he scrubs graffiti off Mount Tom. Caitlin Ashworth—

  • Tom Peake removes graffiti from a rock on Mount Tom. Caitlin Ashworth—

  • Tom Peake removes a swastika that was painted on a rock on Mount Tom. Caitlin Ashworth—

Published: 11/11/2016 7:16:37 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Justin Dowd sat on the edge of a rock on Mount Tom Friday, scrubbing graffiti with a brush and a biodegradable chemical alongside other residents.

Motivated to take action after hearing about hateful graffiti painted on the rocks earlier this week, the 32-year-old Easthampton resident ventured up the mountain ready to clean. By mid-morning, Dowd had already rubbed off an anti-Black Lives Matter reference and an inappropriate suicide joke.

He stopped brushing the rock for a moment and said “Whatever that was it’s a smudge now.”

Photos of the latest round of vulgar and racist graffiti were posted on Facebook Thursday. The thread sparked immediate attention and drew local residents to spontaneously organize a cleanup.

Jen Engelson, 30, of Holyoke, carried a 5-gallon jug of water in her backpack up to the wash away the hateful words.

Throughout the day, various volunteers hiked the mountain to clean off the graffiti carrying supplies such as brushes, gallons of water and bottles of graffiti remover.

Although most people had just met, they collectively worked together with one thing in mind: to remove the graffiti.

But this was not the first time the rocks have been cleaned.

On Oct. 2, Naima Workman, a yoga studio owner, lead a cleanup. Volunteers drove up the reservation’s access road and used a power washer and biodegradable chemical to efficiently remove paint. She had raised about $5,063 for the project.

But about a week later, Workman said hateful and racist graffiti was back on Mount Tom. And it continued.

Swastikas, “gas the Jews” and “kill all (n-word)” were painted on the rocks along with “Trump 2016.”

Photos of the vandalism were posted on an Easthampton group page on Facebook and community members took it upon themselves to wash away the words and symbols.

“I can’t just let it sit there,” Michael Poole, 46, of Easthampton, said.

He said Mount Tom is important to the Easthampton community and referenced Dr. Seuss’s inspiration for the “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” book.

“I look at the mountain everyday,” Poole said.

Tom Peake, 28, of Easthampton, took a break from cleaning to look out into the horizon.

“I can see my house from here,” he said and then pointed out to a cluster of buildings in the distance. “That’s Hartford,” he said. “It’s crazy that you can see something 40 miles away.”

They used a biodegradable graffiti remover, a product costing about $65 per gallon, to scrub the paint off the rocks. The chemical was applied a few times and sat for about five minutes before being scrubbed away.

With the biodegradable chemical, Dowd said the paint comes right off.

“Thankfully that stuff is like magic,” he said. “Luckily it won’t hurt the environment ... just don’t get it in your eyes.”

Some of the graffiti had been painted over before volunteers arrived. Although covering up the vulgar language may have been conceived as helpful, for the people removing the paint, it was a nuisance.

“I want all the graffiti to be gone,” Ed Mooers, 41, of Easthampton said. “There should be zero.”

After the recent Facebook post, Workman said cleaning up the rocks will be an ongoing effort before winter comes.

While the new graffiti also included “Trump 2016,” 37-year-old Natan Maimes, of Easthampton, said anti-Semitic vandalism in the area was nothing new.

He moved to Northampton with his family about 20 years ago and said he experienced hateful discrimination for being Jewish. Maimes said swastikas were painted on his front door and remembers police escorting him to John F. Kennedy Middle School when he was a student.

He hiked up Mount Tom Friday to bring coffee and doughnuts for the volunteers removing graffiti. As the volunteers spent Veterans Day clearing the prejudice language and anti-Semitic symbols from the rocks, Maimes found a form of significance.

“This is what our veterans fought for,” he said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.


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