The Daily Plant : Thursday, November 7, 2013
Cannon Fodder: A Veterans Day Tale
As Veterans Day approaches, we honor the heroism of the servicemen and women who have fought for their country. Parks is home to some 275 war memorials, accounting for nearly a third of the monuments collection citywide. Of this collection, cannons are often overlooked. I was reminded of this recently during a recent e-mail correspondence with former New Yorker and veteran Frank Arundell.
Mr. Arundell inquired, “While Google Earthing around Lt Clinton L. Whiting Square in Woodhaven Queens NY, I found that you dutifully retained the rock I used to climb on as a child ... what I missed was the WW I cannon that was placed on the Square and remained a wonderful memorial to Lt. Whiting as long as I can remember. Now, no cannon and no mention of it in your blurb on the place of treasured memories for me. Whatever happened to the cannon?"
Jonathan Kuhn, Director of Art & Antiquities responded: “At one time there were numerous cannons and artillery guns stationed at small park triangles about the city. When the United States entered World War II in 1941, the Parks Department conducted a survey of historical value, and determined that only those from the Revolutionary and Civil War would be preserved, and that the remainder would be melted as metal to be used for the war effort. We believe that your boyhood cannon met this fate at that time."
Mr. Arundell replied humorously and poignantly: “The same fate fell to my roller skates and scooter. All three items remain a fond memory. Lt. Whiting still is in possession of the square which I found intact, sans cannon, on my recent Google Earth trip to Woodhaven, thanks to you folks. I thought of that field piece often, on my time in the service. An uncle of mine was killed by the recoil of a similar piece in "the Great War" to end all wars, of course! Bless your work, Frank.”
This exchange recalls a time when many street intersections and triangular plazas were predominantly hard surfaced and adorned with few benches and trees. Following World War I, with the support of local veterans organizations, about 50 of these intersections were decorated by heavy artillery guns. Indeed, in recent decades, construction teams excavating sites such as Roosevelt Triangle in Harlem have hit concrete foundations that existed to support these cannons.
The effort to recycle this military ordnance for the World War II effort spared several historical cannons, including three Civil War-era cannons at Riverside Park’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial south plaza, and two mortars--one dating to the American Revolution and one dating to the War of 1812-- which will be restored and reinstalled by the Central Park Conservancy near the battlements of Central Park’s northeast corner. At least one massive World War I-era Rodman gun survives, salvaged from Manhattan Beach and incorporated into a monument at John Paul Jones Park (also known as Cannonball Park for its pyramid of mortar shells).
So, to all the veterans, we give you a 21-gun salute!
Visit our NYC Parks War Memorials for more information.
- Submitted by Jonathan Kuhn, Director, Art & Antiquities
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
"History is a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man"
Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792 - 1822)