What to do with that cannon on the courthouse lawn?

I see stories similar to this one in my RSS feed frequently enough to see a pattern.  First, the “easy” part of the story.  And while the cannon is not “on the courthouse lawn” it is close enough to help make the point. From the Bangor (Maine) Daily News:

Rockland looks to display Civil War cannon

ROCKLAND, Maine — City councilors will be asked to spend up to $19,000 to restore two deteriorating Civil War cannons.

The cannons have been stored in a fenced-in impound lot behind Rockland City Hall since 2002.

The city sought a study on the cannons last year after a representative of the Winslow-Holbrook-Merritt post of the American Legion, Donald Robishaw Sr., asked that the cannons be turned over to that organization so the cannons could be placed adjacent to the Midcoast Area Veterans Memorial. The memorial is located on the Legion property on upper Limerock Street.

A report was issued last week by Jonathan Taggart of Taggart Objects Conservation from Georgetown.The two cast-iron cannons, each about 60 inches long, were manufactured in 1862 and 1863. There also were nine 10-inch artillery shells.

The cannons are in relatively stable condition, but the concrete bases have begun to deteriorate, according to Taggart’s report.

The estimated cost for repairs to the cannons is $18,500. The cost for granite block mounts, fitting and installation is $14,000. Straight steel mounts would be $5,800; curved steel mounts would be $8,800.

There is paint flaking off and corrosion on the Civil War shells, which are in relatively poor condition, according to the report.

The restoration expert points out in his report that the artillery shells also are not the appropriate size ball for the cannons. The cost to purchase and prepare more realistic replacement cannon balls for mounting would be an additional $4,080. There is no estimate for repairing the cannon balls.

Taggart also provided the city with an estimated cost of an additional $60,000 for a reproduction of two historic carriages to which the cannons could be attached.

The city has $19,000 set aside in a Civil War artifacts reserve account.

Rockland Mayor William Clayton said he wants the cannons restored but he does not believe that the city needs to spend all its reserve account to achieve the restoration. He said the veterans group has offered to help the city raise money for work on the cannons.

He said restoration is the first step and then a decision can be made on where to place them.

He said he would recommend that one of the cannons be put on display at Chapman Memorial Park at Main and Park streets with the other one loaned to the American Legion to be displayed at the memorial. The cannons were donated by the federal government to the local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1897. The Grand Army was a group that advocated for the veterans of the Civil War.

The cannons originally were placed on property of the Grand Army Republic — where the First Bank on Union Street is located. The GAR then moved the cannons to Limerock Street in the 1960s where the Shore Village Museum was established.

The cannons remained there until Rockland sold the museum property in 2002 to the neighboring Burpee Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home. The large flagpole that had been located with the cannons was moved at that time to Chapman Memorial Park at the intersection of Park and Main streets. The cannons were placed in the city impound lot.

Last August, Robishaw, of the Winslow-Holbrook-Merritt post of the American Legion asked for the two small cannons to be given to the American Legion.  (full story here.)

The photo attached to the article shows an 8-inch Siege Howitzer, Model 1861.  Beside it are what appear to be 10-inch mortar shells.

Very simple, and familiar, story here.  A few old cannons, donated by the War Department to the GAR back in the day when the Army had plenty of extras to go around.  The guns survived scrap drives of two world wars.  But in the length of time that transpired from original placement to the present has left the guns with layers of flaking paint and questionable ownership.  That last paragraph mentions issues that arose last fall when restoration of the howitzers was brought up.

So who “owns” the gun?  If it was a “loan” all those years ago, then the Department of Defense (or Department of the Army) could lay claim.  But of course, the modern military wouldn’t know what to do with such old weapons.  Nor does it have a need for more museum pieces (that I know of).  The GAR chapter closed… what … probably around 100 years ago?  So does the American Legion then inherit the loan, or donation? Or does the city have some claim here?

What IS important here however – local folks have identified the value of these artifacts and are not just offering them up to a picker representing some anonymous private collector.  They’ve identified ways to link the howitzers into a fitting memorial to the veterans.  Likely when the Bicentennial of the war rolls around, Rockland will still have an anchor point to tell the community’s Civil War stories.