With Veterans Day and its ceremonies just over, it occurred to
me that residents might be interested in the history of the World War I
howitzer and how it came to reside in the Pioneer Cemetery.
World War I veterans who founded Rayon-Miller American Legion Post brought
the 1918 German 105mm howitzer to Pittsford early in 1932. It is likely
that these veterans saw the howitzer as a companion piece to the 1860-65
memorial cannon mounted in the Pittsford Cemetery in the late 1800’s.
The Krupp manufactured gun was supplied by the Army Ordinance Department
and is thought to have arrived in town by train. It was first housed in
Pete Thornell’s Garage, presently Starbucks Coffee Company, for cleaning
and to await its formal dedication.
Military records of the time indicated that the howitzer had been captured
from German marines in France by the US Army 27th division in October 1918.
It bore signs of war action, but was otherwise in good condition. The 27th
Division was a National Guard unit from western New York, making this howitzer
particularly significant as a memorial in Pittsford.
Rochester newspapers reported on March 2, 1932, that a torn water-stained
page from a German marine’s diary had been found tucked away in the
tool box on the carriage. The October 1918 entries told of preparations
for a new attack and noted : "news is bad. Americans very active .
. ." This "discovery" caused a sensation for awhile. The
newspapers were suspicious however, and eventually the diary turned out
to be a hoax, but it worked for a little while and, according to past supervisor,
Paul Spiegel, "a lot of fun was had by all"
Town and village officials, together with Legion officers, selected the
small triangular park at the corner of East Avenue and Washington Road,
then named Penn Street, as the site for the howitzer. This was just north
of the railroad bridge across North Main Street in the Village. Concrete
supports were installed in the summer of 1932, and a flag pole was erected
on the plot to enhance the setting.
A festive parade preceded the formal dedication of the memorial on Saturday
afternoon, September 10, 1932. The line of march came down Main Street
and across the canal bridge, flags flying to the accompaniment of the Doud
Post Band, The Wilson Fife and Drum Corps, and the Wilson Drum and Bugle
Corps. Marching units participating with Rayson-Miller Post included Legionnaires
from Fairport, Brighton, Honeoye Falls, and East Rochester and many more.
At this dedication Congressman James L. Whitley offered remarks that dealt
with the threat to peace as he saw it at that time. He said in part: "It
is the duty of every veteran who has experienced the hardships of war to
prevent disarmament by the United States and to make certain that every
avenue of preparedness to secure peace is opened."
In the following years, the howitzer was a village landmark as it stood
watch in its small park, passed ceremoniously each Memorial Day by the
traditional parade bound for the Veterans Plot in the Pittsford Cemetery.
Village youngsters were drawn to it and many a young boy played at "firing" the
howitzer at passing trains, trucks, busses, and cars.
The peace of that north end of the Village was shattered at 12:14 AM on
October 31, 1960, when the howitzer went off with a terrific blast. "It
practically lifted me out of bed" remarked a Washington Road neighbor.
Fragments of a tin can containing explosives dropped into the muzzle by
pranksters destroyed a mail storage box and sent bits of shrapnel flying
against the railroad bridge." It would have been a good prank, but
it was just too much explosive". Sheriff deputies followed several
leads, but the pranksters were never caught. The Legion decided to plug
the barrel with cement and thus, no more Halloween capers!
In 1974, the intersection of East Avenue, North Main Street and Washington
Road was reconstructed to accommodate increased traffic and at the same
time an apartment house was built on the northeast corner. The small triangular
park, home of the howitzer for 42 years, was lost. The now homeless howitzer
had to find a new home. It resided in the Town Highway Department for a
time until the East Rochester Legion Post suggested a suitable place in
their Edmund Lyons Park. Pittsford Legionnaires agreed to the loan and
it was moved in 1980.
In the Spring of 1987, after the Rayson-Miller Post found its first permanent
quarters in the lower level of the Village Hall, it was suggested that
a new site be selected for the howitzer. After much consideration, the
site in the Pioneer Cemetery was chosen and the howitzer was moved back
to Pittsford. By the end of October 1987, it was permanently secured on
new concrete supports, the site graded and sod laid in preparation for
the November 11 rededication. It had been repainted, cleaned and polished
and the original plaque secured. A semi-circle of flag sockets was installed
around the site in order for flags to be erected on major holidays and
especially on Veterans Day when a ceremony is held each year at 11:00 AM,
the date of the Armistice ending World War I. There it remains, perhaps
permanently, or at least until some other suitable location is found.
(Submitted by Audrey Johnson, Town and Village Historian from notes
in scrapbooks of Pittsford history.)