On a sunny October afternoon last Sunday, friends, family and colleagues of Lilian Baker Carlisle gathered in Battery Park to dedicate a memorial to the longtime Burlington resident, who died in July at age 94. The plaque on "Lilian's Bench" recalls her as an "Author, historian, mentor, friend of young and old / Full of life, wit, and wonder / The voice of local history for over half a century." The memorial is sited where Carlisle used to begin her legendary walking tours of historical Burlington, and just a few blocks from her home on Lakeview Terrace.
David and Ann Arms of the Chittenden County Historical Society worked with Burlington's Department of Parks & Recreation to establish the bench memorial. At the dedication, CCHS President Gail Rosenberg welcomed to the stage University of Vermont dignitaries and Carlisle's daughters Diane and Penny. They spoke about her important contributions to Vermont and Queen City history. David Conrad called Carlisle a "human treasure," who was a "keeper of knowledge, but even more interested in the present and future."
The Burlington Concert Band, led by Robert Resnik, played a Charleston in honor of Carlisle's moves on the dance floor. Pat Morgan, president of the Green Mountain Branch of Vermont Pen Women, also fondly remembered when her friend appeared - at age 93 - in a belly-dancing costume she'd been given years before by Shelburne Museum founder Electra Havemeyer Webb. Speakers paid tribute to Carlisle's important work for the museum and her landmark book, Vermont Clock and Watchmakers, Silversmiths and Jewelers. Morgan put it this way: "She was interested in antiquities, but never became one herself."
It's fitting that Lilian's Bench looks out over the Waterfront's now-defunct Moran Plant. The black soot the plant spewed in the 1960s spurred Carlisle to serve in the state Legislature. There she defended Vermont's environment and natural resources before the Clean Air Act was even conceived.
Lilian Baker Carlisle was both ahead of her time and very much a part of it; her memorial bench will enable visitors to sit and contemplate her contributions for a long time to come.