Who's Dewey?

Mark Brooky • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:06 PM


The name of the hill that thousands of people look at during fireworks shows on the Fourth of July and Coast Guard Festival, and where the Musical Fountain sits at its base, honors Adm. George Dewey.

The big sand dune on the north shore of the Grand River had no name for the first half-century of Grand Haven's existence.

After he led the U.S. Navy's defeat of the Spanish fleet and installations at Manila Harbor in the Philippines without the loss of even one American sailor during the Spanish-American War in 1898, Dewey became an American hero. He was promoted from commodore to rear admiral that May. (Thanks to the Naval History & Heritage Command for the info!)

"Dewey mania swept the nation," Dr. Dave Seibold explains in "Grand Haven in the Path of Destiny." "Towns and babies were named for him."

Congress created a higher rank in 1899, Admiral of the Navy, and the highly decorated Dewey was the first. The next year, Grand Haven residents decided to name the hill for the naval hero.

"On July 5, 1900, the Grand Haven townspeople staged a torchlight parade down Washington Street to the riverfront," according to Seibold. "... At the waterfront, there were speeches, proclamations and Dewey Hill was named."

Dewey died in 1917 at the age of 79. His body was interred in Arlington National Cemetery; but, at the request of his widow, his remains were reinterred in the crypt of Bethlehem Chapel at the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral in Mount Saint Alban, Washington, D.C., in 1925.

Here's a funny story about Dewey and "The Society of the Dog," as told by Rear Adm. (retired) Ammen Farenholt from the Naval History & Heritage Command website:

"Adm. Dewey had on board Olympia as his pet, a badly spoiled dog. He was very fond of it and in his eyes it could do no wrong; however, he was alone in that opinion and both officers and the crew, particularly the afterguard sweepers, detested the animal. The dog was smart enough to know that his sole protector was the admiral and ran back to him if he had been maltreated, whenever anyone touched or made a pass in his general direction. Several men were punished, some justly and perhaps some not quite so justly, and a quartermaster was disrated.

"Partly in a spirit of waggishness and born of the monotony of the blockade in Manila Bay before the fall of the city, the men formed a very secret organization called the Society of the Dog. To be an ordinary member, a man had to have kicked the brute; but to become a member first class he had to have kicked him while the admiral was on deck and could possibly have seen him do it, or had performed some other allied act of equal daring. There were very few of these.

"The organization lasted as long as the dog did, for one morning he turned up missing. That day, a first class member was hurriedly promoted to the office of 'Chief Superior Dog' and the society prudently disbanded. Chief Superior Dog was an afterguard sweeper."

Do you have a question for the Tribune? E-mail it to news@grandhaventribune.com, and type MAILBAG in the subject line. Or mail it the old-fashioned way to: Grand Haven Tribune, MAILBAG, 101 N. Third St., Grand Haven, MI 49417. We'll do our best to get you an answer! A new Mailbag appears on grandhaventribune.com at 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Recommended for You