By noon Sunday, there was just emptiness behind a fence.
There were no words or plaques on the walls, no signs or other tokens left behind by fans, and most notably outside of Beaver Stadium, there was no statue of Joe Paterno.
The nearly-1,000 pound bronze statue of Penn State’s former football coach was taken down Sunday morning following a few days filled with talks about the monument’s future.
“I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno’s statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our University and beyond,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement. “For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location.”
Erickson released that statement a little after 7 a.m., and preparations to have the statue taken down began earlier as police had blocked off Porter Road by about 6:15 a.m.
It was quiet when workers started getting ready for the statue’s removal. One of the first things the construction crew from the university’s Office of Physical Plant did was set up a chain link fence around the statue and cover it with a blue tarp to block the view of onlookers.
A crowd of both media and members of the general public swelled in size as the morning went on, and a little after 7:40, workers started using heavy machinery. Sounds of a jackhammer filled the air as some Penn State faithful stood in disbelief.
Workers eventually put a blue covering around the statue’s head and around 8:20 a.m. a forklift moved the statue — which was built in 2001 — to inside Beaver Stadium.
The statue was never raised above the fence and it’s unsure where, when or if the statue will be seen again. Erickson’s release did not specify where the statue was going or what the university planned to do with it in the future.
There was no jackhammer or any other tool making noise after the statue was taken out of sight, and for a brief moment it was quiet again until a “We are…” chant broke out in a crowd of about 50 students, alumni and other spectators.
The crowd eventually began to disperse as workers removed the words and plaques from the walls behind the statue, leaving them bare.
The status of the statue came into question after former FBI Director Louis Freeh released a report last Thursday regarding his internal investigation of Penn State. Freeh’s findings showed Paterno was one of four top university officials that had knowledge of incidents involving Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing young boys.
The former Penn State defensive coordinator was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse last month.
“I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse,” Erickson said in the statement.
Paterno died of lung cancer on Jan. 22, precisely six months prior to the removal of his statue. The Paterno family also issued a statement Sunday.
“Tearing down the statue of Joe Paterno does not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s horrible crimes or help heal the Penn State Community,” the family said in the statement. “We believe the only way to help the victims is to uncover the full truth.”
The Paterno family’s statement went on to call Freeh’s report “obviously flawed” and closed with the following:
“It is not the University's responsibility to defend or protect Joe Paterno. But they at least should have acknowledged that important legal cases are still pending and that the record on Joe Paterno, the Board and other key players is far from complete.”
While Paterno’s statue was taken down, Erickson announced in his statement the late coach’s name would remain on another university landmark — the Paterno Library.
“The library remains a tribute to Joe and Sue Paterno’s commitment to Penn State's student body and academic success, and it highlights the positive impacts Coach Paterno had on the University,” Erickson said. “Thus I feel strongly that the library's name should remain unchanged.”
Ever since news broke Friday that there was a decision about the statue’s fate looming, many supporters of Paterno, both young and old, congregated to the coach’s bronze likeness. There were lines of fans at times during the weekend, waiting to get a picture with the statue, but because of the early hour, there was not a large number of fans there to see the statue’s removal.
In his statement, Erickson acknowledged there would likely be some backlash to the decision, but he stood by the choice.
Erickson was correct, and a couple of minutes after the statue was taken into the stadium, one woman started shouting “Erickson is a coward!” at the top of her lungs.
“I fully realize that my decision will not be popular in some Penn State circles, but I am certain it is the right and principled decision,” Erickson said.