WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – A more than decade-old monument that got swept-up recently in controversy is no longer standing in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
The city removed the Beehive Monument from Public Square early Thursday morning barely a week after it was pointed out an alleged hate group sponsored a marker on it.
Wilkes-Barre officials say they made the call to take down the Beehive Monument during the early morning to avoid any public safety issues.
But as Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller explains, the decision to remove it is not avoiding public scrutiny.
With the bustle of the weekly farmers market, it seemed many people did not notice something was missing from Wilkes-Barre Public Square. But not everyone. City resident Stanley Bzura said, “I was looking for it. I couldn’t find it. I’m very surprised it happened.”
Where the Beehive Monument once stood is now a vacant spot covered with loose fill after Mayor Tony George ordered the monument’s removal. Vendor Peter Webby of Wilkes-Barre said, “It’s getting like the south. You know, tear the monuments down. Why? It’s been there for years. It’s part of the history here.”
The now-defunct group Celebrate Wilkes-Barre had the monument installed in 2006 to celebrate the city’s bicentennial. In time, it featured nearly 200 brick-like plaques sold for $35 each. But one of those plaques recently installed was sponsored by the Ku Klux Klan-affiliiated group East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire.
The controversy was further fueled last Friday when political activist Gene Stilp was arrested after trying to take down the alleged hate group’s marker himself. A boiling point but not a tipping point according to city officials. Mayor Tony George said, “The monument was coming down anyway with the second phase of the Public Square renovation so I figured do it now. Why wait.” City Administrator Rick Gazenski added, “I think that we really had to sit down and deliberate how we were going to handle the renovations.”
Citing renovations as the reason, the removal seemingly skirts the issue of free speech rights. Don Sennett of Wilkes-Barre said, “Okay. Well, you know we’ve got to have a reason to do everything so they found a good one then.”
The decision to remove the monument came just a week after the city was still selling markers for it. That leaves some asking why bother to do that if the city was ultimately going to take it down. Mr. Webby said, “I think that’s a cover-up somehow. Somehow. Something’s wrong.”
The monument is now in the hands of Wilkes-Barre DPW. When asked for permission to get video of where the monument is now, the city denied the request by Eyewitness News. City officials say they haven’t decided what they will do with the actual monument structure itself. They did say they are working out logistics to return the brick-like plaques to anyone who bought one if they want them back.