Six-year-old Christian Mullins prayed as the coffin of a former slave named Fortune was lowered into a grave in Riverside Cemetery last night in Waterbury, thus ending 200 years of disrespect.
Fortune was a slave in the 18th Century and when he died under mysterious circumstances in Waterbury, in 1798, his master, Dr. Preserved Porter, boiled him, and used his skeleton in his medical practice.
One hundred and forty years later the skeleton was donated to the Mattatuck Museum where it hung on display with the name “Larry” scrawled across the skull. Thousands of school children visited the museum each year, and generations of Waterbury youth grew up and saw Larry behind a glass display case. The museum eventually concluded the exhibit was in poor taste, took the skeleton off display, and stored it in a box.
In the 1990s the African-American History Project began to question who Larry was, and the story of Fortune began to unfold. Yesterday Fortune laid in state in the rotunda at the state capitol in Hartford, received a police escort on I-84, and finally had a funeral at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Waterbury, and was buried in Riverside Cemetery.
Reverend Amy Welin of St. John’s Church blessed Fortune’s remains as the casket was surrounded by clergy from Waterbury. Photographs by John Murray
Dr. Perserved Porter was a bone doctor in Waterbury and used Fortune’s skeleton as a teaching tool for several decades.
Daniel Longchamp of the Pyramid Shriners Pipes and Drums played the pipes as Fortune’s casket entered St. John’s Church.
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary reached out to place his hand on Fortune’s casket as it exited St. John’s Church in downtown Waterbury. O’Leary called for a moment of silence yesterday morning throughout the school district, and encouraged teachers to use the story as an educational tool. “Yes we had slaves right here in Waterbury, Connecticut,” O’Leary said. “And that should never be forgotten.”
Pallbearers from the Alderson Funeral home placed Fortune’s casket atop his gravesite moments before the skies opened up and pummeled the service with rain.