A rapid-fire deck gun salvaged from the battleship USS Maine that occupied a prominent place at a White Plains, N.Y., Revolutionary War park for 75 years now sits in a public works storage shed near a dump.
For nine years, the 10-foot-long gun, which fired 6-pound shells and was cutting-edge for its time, has been tucked away at the White Plains Public Works yard, right near a recycling center and the dump.
If local veterans, public officials and history buffs have their way, it will make its way to a permanent, featured spot at a proposed veterans memorial park.
A letter to the editor in the March 23 edition of the White Plains Times stirred controversy as it alleged that the gun was removed at the request of the White Plains Historical Society because it was deemed inappropriate for Battle Whitney Park.
City and historical society officials say the reasons for the gun’s removal were security and safety.
“The letter is not accurate,” said Robert Hoch, president of the White Plains Historical Society. “The city of White Plains is very proud of our Revolutionary War history and our veterans, but with this monument being defaced, we removed it until we could find a more secure location for it to be displayed.”
The letter writer also alleged that the gun was left uncovered in the public works dump for a few years, but former U.S. Marine Bob Donnelly, who is now commander of American Legion Post 135 in White Plains, said he and two of his fellow veterans personally visited the storage site.
“I went over Friday with two Post 135 members and it was inside a storage shed,” said Donnelly, who spent four years on active Marine duty. “Personally, I thought it looked pretty good.”
The gun, one of seven installed on the USS Maine, was salvaged in 1912 when the battleship was raised from Havana Harbor in Cuba, where it blew up and sank in 1898, and towed out of the harbor to be sunk again.
The 300-pound gun was given to the city of White Plains by the White Plains Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution during a public ceremony on Oct. 28, 1915, to commemorate the Battle of White Plains. The gun, mounted on a granite gun carriage and placed on a solid rock foundation with an inscribed bronze tablet, marked the site where Alexander Hamilton’s cannons were fired during the battle on Chatterton Hill.
Hoch said the monument and gun were being vandalized by teens spraying graffiti and breaking bottles on it, and the city had it placed in storage at the public works facility.
“This is to the best of my knowledge a temporary situation, and there is currently a push to create a veterans memorial park that would be the ideal location to have it permanently displayed,” Hoch added. “We’re hopeful that once the election is over, we’ll have a lot less of the political uncertainty that stalled this project.”
The “election” is Thursday’s special mayoral contest being held to replace former Mayor Adam Bradley, who resigned last month.
Acting Mayor Thomas Roach said the Veterans Memorial Park project is a priority of his.
“It’s been kicked around for a while as a concept, but if I’m elected, we’re going to get it done,” said Roach, who has been interim mayor for 31 days. “Apparently there was an issue with the cannon because of vandalism and graffiti, and perhaps it might be misinterpreted because it was near a playground, but the fact we have it is amazing, and I would love to see it properly displayed.”
He’s not the only one.
“It deserves to be at Veterans Park after being on Whitney Hill,” said Donnelly. “This has been dragging on for over nine years. They apparently had the money and some plans, but then people started arguing over the design of the park and it became political.”
Donnelly said some argue that the park should be designed by a veteran, not an architect.
“I spent 23 years in law enforcement and 13 months in Vietnam, and I’m very familiar with memorials and monuments, but I’m not an architect,” said Donnelly, who was a criminal investigator for the district attorney’s office and a personal bodyguard for actress Anne Hathaway for 2½ years. “It’s just been one thing after the other.”
Should White Plains not build the veterans park or not find a permanent spot for the gun, Bangor Historical Society director of museum operations Dana Lippitt was asked how much interest her group would have in acquiring it.
“If we had the resources to do that right now, which we don’t right now, we might certainly think about it,” Lippitt said. “But we don’t have the resources to get or store something like that right now.”
Lippitt noted the historic incongruity of a Revolutionary War park having a gun from a sunken ship that touched off the Spanish-American War.
“I wonder how long ago that happened, and I wonder about the historical continuity with that being a 1776 site and the cannon being part of an event that happened in 1898,” she said.
Lippitt and many others agree a permanent public location should be found for the gun.
“We don’t have any place at the Bangor VFW,” said World War II veteran Paul Colburn of Bangor, who organized Bangor’s annual “Remember the Maine” memorial ceremonies for the last 40 years. “It should be displayed somewhere in public for people to see. It has a lot of historical value.”