A South End resident is proposing to build a monument in the city’s West End that would pay tribute to one of that neighborhood’s favorite native sons, Leonard Nimoy, while also honoring Mr. Spock – the character he immortalized on “Star Trek” and whose signature Vulcan hand salutation (along with its accompanying spoken expression of well-wishing, “Live Long and Prosper”) ranks among the most indelible and instantly recognizable images from the classic 1960s TV series.
Like many Bostonians, Tom Stocker, the artist and Northampton Street resident who is spearheading the effort, was unaware of the actor’s connection to the city before viewing “Leonard Nimoy’s Boston” – a half-hour special that first aired on WGBH-TV in 2014 in which Nimoy, accompanied by his filmmaker son, Adam, returned to his native city to reminisce about growing up in the old West End as the son of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine.
In fact, his ties to the city ran so deep that Nimoy, who died in February of 2015 at age 83, revealed in his autobiography “I Am Not Spock,” that he based the Vulcan salutation, which comprises a raised hand with the palm forward and thumb extended while the middle and ring fingers are parted, on a rabbinical blessing he saw performed during a religious service at an Orthodox synagogue he accompanied his grandfather to as a boy.
The name of the synagogue has unfortunately been lost to history, Stocker said, and while it was certainly located within the old West End, even its approximate whereabouts remains murky, since at that time, the neighborhood extended beyond its current boundaries to include what is now the North Slope of Beacon Hill.
Stocker, meanwhile, began his effort to memorialize Nimoy in earnest in March of 2015 – one month after the actor’s death – and it was around this time he wrote a letter to Sebastian Smee, then with The Boston Globe. Smee reprinted Stocker’s letter in the Globe soon afterwards while further proclaiming that erecting a monument to Nimoy in Boston would be most “logical” in a nod to what is likely Mr. Spock’s best-remembered catchphrase.
Surprisingly, Stocker doesn’t consider himself a diehard “Trekkie,” although he regularly watched the series in reruns in the ‘70s and even saw “Star Trek: the Motion Picture” upon its theatrical release in 1979.
Instead, Stocker’s true appreciation for Nimoy came from learning of the former West End resident’s enduring love for Boston.
“I was very moved by his love for city, and that he always came back here…as well as his charitable work for the Boys & Girls Club he attended as a boy on Blossom Street,” Stocker said of Nimoy, who also received an honorary Doctorate of Human Letters degree from Boston University in 2012 – one day after he delivered a commencement speech to graduates of the school’s College of Fine Arts, which he concluded by saying “Live Long and Prosper.”
(Nimoy took summer classes at BU before relocating to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career.)
While Stocker settled on the West End as the most fitting location for a monument to Nimoy in the city, he didn’t know what form it would take until he walked past the New England Conservatory in June and had what he described as a proverbial “Eureka” moment.
Situated on the lawn across from Jordan Hall was “Scrolls” – a 16-foot-high sculpture by Boston-area artist David Phillips” crafted from perforated stainless steel to resemble the form of a violin and illuminated from within via LED lighting.
Drawing inspiration from “Scrolls,” Stocker envisioned the memorial to Nimoy as a 20-foot sculpture depicting the Vulcan hand salutation crafted from stainless-metal lattice and similarly illuminated from within using LED lighting.
Stocker called Phillips out of the blue to pitch him the idea soon afterwards, and while Phillips was a fan of “Star Trek” who also regularly watched the series in reruns in the ‘70s, he was unaware of Nimoy’s connection to Boston and the West End until Stocker filled him on that salient detail.
Phillips also enthusiastically embraced Stocker’s idea of the sculpture taking the form of the Vulcan hand salutation. “A symbol like that would resonate a lot with the public and the millions of ‘Star Trek’ fans out there,” he said.
City Councilor Kenzie Bok, whose district includes the West End, is also on board with the idea of memorializing Nimoy in the neighborhood he once called home.
“I’m always excited about ways that we can do more to acknowledge West End history, in partnership with current West Enders,” she told this reporter in October. “Obviously Leonard Nimoy is a major cultural icon, and I think the fact that the famous Vulcan salute is based on a sign of blessing in the West End synagogue of Nimoy’s childhood is a lovely West End legacy. I’m looking forward to talking more with the proposer and with neighbors about the idea.”
Late last June, Stocker launched a grassroots fundraising campaign on Facebook to finance the cost of building the memorial to Nimoy, which exceeded its modest $3,000 benchmark by more than $1,700. As evidence of the image’s globe-spanning appeal, one woman from India donated $5 to the cause, while Stocker gifted one of the small, original acrylics he painted of the Vulcan hand salutation to more than half of the campaign’s donors as tokens of his appreciation.
The estimated cost of the project now hinges on modifications of materials and the final design, but Stocker has been encouraged by the response the project has so far received.
And above all else, Stocker hopes that a monument to Nimoy in Boston would raise the iconic actor’s lifelong bond with the city in the public consciousness.
“While many people know, he’s from the Boston area, not many know he was from the West End so instead they’ll ask me: ‘was he from Somerville?’; ‘was he from Newtown?’; ‘was he from Brookline?’; ‘was he from the North End?,’” Stocker said. “It’s amazing that people from Boston don’t know this, and for that reason alone, they need to be educated.”
To lend your support to this ongoing effort, contact Tom Stocker via email at [email protected].