HOULTON, Maine — A meditative walking path finally got the green light for Houlton’s Riverfront Park Monday night, despite objections from a councilor that it could connote satanic activity.
Houlton resident Dick Rhoda wanted to donate a labyrinth, or structured pathway, at the park in memory of his father. Nine months and five detailed presentations later, the Houlton Town Council approved the structure in a 5-to-1 vote. Councilor Eileen McLaughlin cast the dissenting vote.
The vote marks the end of local controversy about the labyrinth, which was rejected in February by the town’s parks and recreation advisory board. The board contended a structure so large — 42 feet in diameter and built of 9,000 bricks — would disrupt the park’s quiet nature theme.
Rhoda, who first walked the centuries-old labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France as a college student in 1964, will purchase a near-scale version of the French masterpiece for the downtown Houlton park. He believes America’s Peace Labyrinth, as he named it, will bridge divides as more people from other cultures and religions move to Maine.
Prior to the vote, McLaughlin became emotional as she expressed her concerns about labyrinths, saying they have been used in pagan and satanic practices. She said she had been influenced negatively by someone else’s satanic practices but did not elaborate.
“If you look up the University of Loyola in Chicago and their historical understanding of the labyrinth, it is about half-man, half-beast who have young virgin girls and boys go into the middle of a labyrinth. I will not say anymore, but some pretty dark stuff,” McLaughlin said.
Labyrinths may also have represented pilgrimages to Jerusalem and a way to connect worshippers with the divine, according to Loyola University’s Medieval Studies.
Rhoda proposed the Meadow, a green location in Riverside Park, for the labyrinth, because it was closer to the parking lot and easier for older visitors to access. Councilors favored the more private Sprague Lot. Councilor Sue Tortello had originally supported the Sprague Lot, but changed her mind Monday night based on Rhoda’s reasoning.
Still, councilors voted down the Meadow in a 2-to-4 vote and approved the Sprague Lot for the labyrinth’s location. Several councilors said the Meadow is already crowded with other things like playground equipment and an eagle statue, and they want to preserve its green space.
Still up for discussion are the labyrinth’s design details and concerns by Rhoda about the safety and ease of access of the Sprague Lot.
Tortello suggested local artists might paint the graffiti-covered bridge and the message of peace might change what goes on in that location.
Also at issue was Rhoda’s desire to have the words “peace,” “shalom” and “salam,” representing Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions, on stone in the labyrinth center. A design committee, which includes Rhoda, will meet to discuss these details to be certain they are inclusive of other groups in the town as well.