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In loving memory: Lion statue serves as memorial for beloved member of Haggerty family 30 years later

Allen Chiu | Design Editor

The Haggerty Lion statue sits in Oakwood Cemetery as a memorial to Michael Haggerty. The status was built by his brother, Thomas Haggerty.

When Michael Haggerty was a baby, his mother took him to get a shot at the hospital. He hid under the covers and licked her hands in protest.

More than a decade later, Michael died in a car accident, along with a friend, on June 17, 1974, while they were driving his family’s station wagon on Route 3. They were driving fast and ran into a tree.

Michael’s younger brother, Thomas Haggerty, created a memorial in his honor — it was only fitting that the monument be a lion.

“He didn’t want to look at the shot and all of a sudden, she felt him licking her hands,” said Edward Haggerty, Michael’s older brother. “That’s why there’s a lion as opposed to something else, is because Michael always wanted to be a lion.”

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the monument, which was placed in Oakwood Cemetery on Nov. 11, 1982. Edward created the monument at the request of his family in honor of his brother.

“The lion itself definitely has a legacy and has hopefully a backing to preserve it for centuries to come, and I think the story behind it is something (people) can relate to,” said Edward, who received a bachelor’s degree from SU in 1979 and a master’s degree in 1981 in civil engineering.

He led a hectic life, Edward added, always hanging out with an older crowd.

That desire to be a lion translated into Michael’s art as well. Compared to other artists at the time, Michael was “the wilder kind, the free-spirited kind,” Thomas said.

“It was really devastating,” he said. “It really f***ed my family up forever. The act of making this lion was therapeutic for us.”

Thomas, who graduated from SU in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in sculpture, sculpted the lion in his garage during the summer of 1981. Rodger Mack, then-chair of the sculpture department, subsequently oversaw his work. The next step was to invest the wax, a process in which his entire family took part.

The Haggerty family did not hire any contractors to help build the memorial — Edward and his father, 79-year-old James Haggerty, are both civil engineers.

“We’re basically creators in a genuine sense and do-gooders for society,” Edward said.

James and Edward approached St. Mary’s Cemetery in DeWitt, N.Y., about erecting the monument at St. Mary’s, but the cemetery rejected it, calling it a Pagan symbol.

The Haggerty family finally decided to place the lion in Oakwood Cemetery, which is near their home on Berkeley Drive. James was the only person present for Michael’s disinterment from St. Mary’s.

“That was disconcerting, to have something so dramatic take place, that he was moved,” said Christine Haggerty, the Haggerty brothers’ sister and a financial writer for an asset management company in New York City who received a dual degree from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Martin J. Whitman School of Management in 1978.

But what the lion monument really did was force the Haggerty family to deal with Michael’s death. It took the family 20 years to get together and deal with it, Christine said.

She added that since she is not religious, the lion is a symbol of Michael’s memory.

“I’m not into the mourning thing,” she added. “The lion is so proud and regal. It’s not your typical cemetery thing.”

Edward drove up to the Haggerty lion monument on Nov. 11. Afterward, he went to visit his parents. He and his father discussed the monument.

His mother, Martha Haggerty, 80, a Syracuse University alumna with a bachelor of science in home economics, currently has Alzheimer’s disease. She surprised Edward when she began to react as he spoke about the memorial.

“It really surprised me that she would react to what I was talking about with my dad,” he said.

Although the family members visit the monument occasionally, they have not visited as a family in a while. Still, they have collectively shared pride in the monument. The Haggerty brothers also have a younger sister, Kathy Haggerty, 54, who graduated from Colgate University in 1980.

Said Thomas: “I think we’re all very proud of it as a family. Even though we don’t communicate it that much, we’re all proud of it.”

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