People are coming together to keep a beloved whale from going extinct: Conny.
At 60-feet long, and made of 40,000 pounds of concrete and iron, he’s hard to miss outside The Children’s Museum in West Hartford.
“I have six kids, every one of them loves Conny,” Suzann Beckett said.
The Children’s Museum does not own the property where it currently sits, and currently leases from Kingswood Oxford School. Late last month, that land was sold to a developer. It's a sale that has long been in the works, but now the future of both the museum and Conny are uncertain.
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Conny frequently gets young visitors, and helps kids learn.
“Conny is a great whale to play in, and has been here since I was little,” 12-year-old Ashton Beckett said.
Not only that, but Conny is the Connecticut state animal: the sperm whale. That honor is part of his original mission.
“Most people aren't aware that Connecticut was actually second only to I think New Bedford, Massachusetts and whaling in the 1800s. It made a lot of sense for Conny to be the state animal,” Michael Werle, The Children’s Museum Executive Director, said. “Conny was also meant to draw attention to at that time [when he was built], there was an awful lot of slaughter of whales throughout the world. And they wanted to slow that down.”
Now with the sale of The Children Museum’s property, Conny enters unchartered waters. And there has been a wave of support to save the whale.
“Conny is a symbol of this place,” Beckett said. “Conny, like, this means more than just like a statue of a whale. Kids have played in it so many times. It's like a memory everyone treasures.”
Beckett’s mom, Suzann, calls herself the unofficial head of the “Save Conny The Whale” organization. They are pushing for the museum to relocate to the former Hartford College For Women in the West End, owned by the University of Harford. And they want Conny right alongside.
“We would love to see children from all ages, all suburbs all over Hartford, come and have it be the beacon that it is here in West Hartford,” Beckett said.
Conny was constructed in 1975-76, welcoming kids for nearly 50 years. Now members of that organization who want to save this whale hope future generations of kids will be able to venture into his belly to run around.
"This museum started back when my mother was young. She grew up in Hartford. It started in Hartford. And she played in this whale when I was a little kid,” Beckett said. “I played in this whale. And then my son Ashton plays in the whale. And someday when he grows up, I hope that his children can also play in the whale and visit the museum."
Conny’s future also raises questions about the future of the museum. Werle said three sites are being considered for relocation, and building a new museum will cost approximately $25 million.
“We're probably with informal commitments somewhere at about the 50% mark. So we will have to launch a very aggressive fundraising campaign,” he said.
The endeavor of moving a 20-ton Conny will cost an estimated $200,000.
“It is absolutely critical. The city of Hartford has very little resources for their children,” Beckett said. “This is something that if it was moved to the location that the West End Civic Association has been hoping it will move to, it's within maybe a mile or two of seven or ten schools, all of which could really expand upon the STEM opportunities, the animals, the science.”
As for the question of Conny going extinct, Werle weighs in.
“I don't want to be around if that happens, because there's too many people that have strong-vested interest,” he said. “So I can't see that right now. I mean, I just don't understand how that could come about.”
There is also an online petition to save Conny the whale, that has gotten more than 1,300 signatures.