Different Scene at Paterno's Resting Place

A few miles away from the circus surrounding his statue, Joe Paterno's humble grave site remained serene as two women stopped by to pay their respects in person.

Carlisle, Pa., natives Deb Kerrigan and Sue Stewart woke up early Sunday morning. The longtime Penn State fans were hoping to make it to University Park before the statue of former Nittany Lion football coach Joe Paterno was uprooted from its perch just outside Beaver Stadium.

The 7-foot, 900-pound bronze statue had become a symbol of Paterno's legacy, with critics who said he did not do enough to prevent the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal demanding it go and supporters who pointed to the good Paterno did during his long career saying it ought to stay.

Friday, when it was learned that PSU president Rodney Erickson would make a decision on the statue within 72 hours, most folks realized its days were numbered.

“We thought, well, we'll take a drive up from Carlisle and pay our respects,” said Kerrigan, a former schoolteacher. “We arrive at 7 o'clock (Sunday morning) and it's all over.”

Most of it was over, anyway.

Police and a construction crew sealed off Porter Road around 6 a.m. A chain-link fence covered with a blue tarp was quickly erected around the statue, to prevent anyone from getting too close or seeing what was happening. After the statue was taken down, it was set on a truck and taken into Beaver Stadium.

It all went off like the well-scripted process it was.

The crew spent the next few hours removing player likenesses and plaques denoting all of Penn State's seasons under Paterno from the wall behind where the statue had been. Onlookers came and went. There were probably never more than 200 at a time (this outside a stadium that holds 110,000). Photographers scrambled for the best angles from which to shoot. National television outlets ran live programming.

The area where the statue was.

It was a lot of hustle and bustle, and yet there were very few shows of emotion. People in this area have become numb to the seemingly everlasting fallout of the Sandusky scandal.

By lunchtime, the construction crew was gone, the road was re-opened to a stream of heavy traffic, and people and media types continued to mill about. The area where the statue had been remained fenced off, but onlookers strained to hold their cameras above the tarps to get photos of the now barren area in front of the now barren wall.

At about this same time, there was a much different kind of buzz at little Spring Creek Cemetery a few miles away. The air was still. The only noises were the steady hum of cicadas and the whine of a weed-whacker in the distance.

The place was deserted except for two women -- Kerrigan and Stewart -- standing over a grave near the very back edge of the hilly cemetery. The headstone they looked down upon read “PATERNO,” and on the left side were the words “JOSEPH VINCENT, 1926-2012.”

Paterno died of lung cancer in January.

His headstone is every bit as humble as the statue was ostentatious. The stone is flat with the ground, and is next to impossible to see unless you are standing right next to the grave. The only clues that it identifies the resting place of a one-time celebrity are the flowers and mementos left behind by mourners.

Kerrigan and Stewart carefully removed some of the flowers that had died and discarded them. They looked at all of the mementos, including a postcard from Iowa that simply said, “We Are…” This was their first successful trip to Paterno's gravesite, as the last time they tried to find it they got lost on the winding roads in the area. But after missing the statue earlier in the day, they were intent on getting to the grave Sunday, even though nearby bridge construction forced them to drive miles out of their way.

Deb Kerrigan cleans up around the grave.

The visit was therapeutic. Stewart said, “It was definitely worth coming to see,” adding that she hopes other fans stop by to see one monument to Paterno that is not going anywhere.

For Kerrigan -- who admitted to being upset by some of the intense negative media comments on Paterno -- it was a chance to put things into perspective, too.

“You know, they got the criminal (Sandusky) and they put him away,” she said. “Let's just give some respect to the Paterno family.”

She had to pause to keep from crying.

Early Sunday afternoon, while the rest of the nation was still focused on what was going on just outside of Beaver Stadium, the two women paid their respects to Paterno himself.

And maybe that was the way it was supposed to be.

After all, contemplating a man's legacy while standing at his statue is one thing.

Doing it while standing at his grave is quite another.

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