UNIVERSITY PARK - Exactly six months after Joe Paterno passed away from lung cancer at the age of 85, the bronze statue of the late football coach was unceremoniously uprooted from its monument outside Beaver Stadium and placed in storage.
Visitors milled about the empty stone walls throughout the day Sunday, separated from the stone facade by a wall of construction fencing draped in a blue tarp. Traffic crawled by - with the occasional "We are" chant being shouted from vehicles, as visitors walked the perimeter of the fence left in place following the statue's removal earlier in the morning.
State College resident Miles Scott could scarcely believe the 900-pound statue of the late football coach was gone.
Mirror photo by Zach Geiger
Penn State freshman Jack Byrnes, 18, of Downingtown places a sign along the chain link fence surrounding the former location of the statue.
"It's pretty crazy," Scott, Class of 2010, said. "I never thought it would actually be moved."
Thoughts on the statue, once a rallying point for students and alumni during the unfolding Jerry Sandusky scandal, varied as visitors talked amongst themselves and snapped pictures of the barren walls.
"It's kind of a sad day for Penn State," Bob DeWitt, Class of 1977, said. "Based on the facts, I think it was something they needed to do."
After dropping off their daughter at a summer camp on campus, DeWitt and his wife, Michele, Class of 1978, stopped by the stadium after hearing the statue was uprooted.
The statue is only one part of the entire story, Bob DeWitt said - Penn State needs to make a "significant" change in leadership.
And any NCAA sanctions to be levied against the university, which will be announced Monday, could be "devastating to the local community" and student athletes, Bob DeWitt said.
"There's so much more to the university than this," Michele said, gesturing toward the barren walls.
Construction vehicles and police arrived shortly after dawn Sunday, barricading the street and sidewalks near the statue, erecting a chain-link fence and then concealing the 7-foot-tall statue with a blue tarp. Workers used jackhammers to free the 900-pound statue and used a forklift to lower it onto a flat-bed truck that rolled into a stadium garage bay as some of the 100 to 150 students and other onlookers chanted, "We are Penn State."
The university announced Sunday that it was taking down the monument in the wake of an investigative report that found that the late coach and three other top Penn State administrators concealed sex abuse claims against Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys, sometimes on Penn State's campus. The NCAA, meanwhile, announced that it would levy "corrective and punitive measures" today.
Possible NCAA sanctions could destroy the football program and punish student athletes and coaches that were not connected to the scandal, Wendy Funk, Class of 2001, said.
"They're basically going to kill the football program," Funk said.
"I'm terrified that State College is going to die in the long run," if the football program is crippled by sanctions, she added.
Penn State President Rod Erickson said he decided to have the statue removed and put into storage because it "has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing" and would be "a recurring wound" to victims of child abuse had it remained.
The statue had become such a lightning rod for public opinion amid the child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State that even President Barack Obama weighed in. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told Washington reporters Sunday afternoon that Obama believed "it was the right decision" for the university to remove the monument.
In stark contrast to the line of students and alumni queued up to take photos with the statue Saturday, the vacant stone walls where the statue once sat saw a steady but quiet stream of visitors hours after Office of Physical Plant works cleared the scene.
Many talked amongst themselves in hushed tones as visitors held cameras above the chain link fence and other peered through gaps in the blue tarps.
"It's a shame, all this stuff," Alex Gibson, 18, of Reading said. "[Paterno] did so much for the school. "It's a shame that's how he was treated," Gibson said, glancing at the stone walls.
Penn State freshmen Jack Byrnes, 18, of Downingtown and Connor Sidebottom, 18, of West Chester made the trip to the empty concrete pad twice Sunday - each time with a different sign in support of the late coach.
Echoing the words which once hung behind Paterno in bronze letters, their sign, which read "They asked me what I'd like written about me when I'm gone. I hope they write I've made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach," was left along the bottom of the fence with a growing collection of memorabilia and items left behind Sunday. Flowers and a wooden cross were added to the fence as more visitors - many dressed in clothing with images of Paterno and Penn State, visited the site.
"It's the beginning of a new chapter," Byrnes said. "It's a new era. It's a terrible thing [to take down the statue], but it's not going to take away what Penn State is."
Tearing down the statue was an overreaction, resident Kevin Wagner said, but in the long run may have been the right call.
"I think Joe would have wanted it down," to take the focus off of him and shift attention to the victims, Wagner, Class of 1998, said. The focus should be on Sandusky and the victims - and not on the monument to the late football coach, he said.
Although it would be impossible for the university to wipe Paterno's name from its history - including his donations to the library and community - the university was better off removing the statue, Wagner said.
"I'm just a little concerned they're not going to stop there."
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535. The Associated Press contributed to this report.