FULTON — Mike Cooper was 8 months old when the Berlin Wall came down.
Tuesday, he watched as folding chairs were taken down after a commemorative event about 20 yards from pieces of the wall. He was not in Germany. Rather, he was in Fulton, where the longest continuous section of the wall in North America stands.
Cooper, 21, is a student at Westminster College where former attorney general John Ashcroft spoke Tuesday in celebration of the day the college received the sculpture called “Breakthrough,” which was crafted from the wall.
“Breakthrough” was Ashcroft’s backdrop as he spoke to the crowd. The backdrop was the same for former President Ronald Reagan 20 years ago, when he assisted in dedicating the sculpture.
“Sculpture” can scarcely describe the sections of concrete, covered in various colors of graffiti. Most of the images, including an enigmatic section of red and a potbellied profile of a man with spiky yellow hair, are airbrushed on with spray paint. A cartoon face smiles from a corner. In multiple places appear the words “un Wohr,” German for “untruths,” in gloppy orange paint that protrudes from the flat surface.
The vandalized blocks remain in their original form, except for two cutouts of human silhouettes — one of a woman and another of a man. The figures stretch the entire height of the wall and are wide enough for a person to walk through.
In fact, Mikhail Gorbachev, ordered by Reagan in the 1980s to tear the wall down, walked through the wall on Westminster’s campus in 1992.
The eight sections of the wall were acquired by Edwina Sandys, granddaughter of Winston Churchill, and were donated to the college because of its connections with him. Churchill delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster in 1946.
On Nov. 9, 1990, one year after the wall was torn down, Reagan, Ashcroft and Sandys presented the sculpture to the college. Ashcroft returned Tuesday to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the presentation of “Breakthrough” to the campus.
Ashcroft’s wire rim glasses glinted in the late afternoon sun as he addressed the crowd. He periodically whipped the frames off his face, holding them in his hand as he spoke excitedly of Reagan’s influence on the wall coming down.
"We find liberty and justice and opportunity emerging from behind the wall," Ashcroft said.
He also recounted his experience the day after the Sept. 11 attacks, when former President George W. Bush looked at him and said, “Don’t ever let this happen again.” Similarly, he mentioned what he believed to be Reagan’s dedication to the prevention of future violence and international disputes.
Sandys could not attend the event Tuesday but sent an address that was read by Rob Havers, executive director of the National Churchill Museum and Churchill Institute.