STRANGE GH: War of 1812 cannons never saw battle until recycled in 1943

Feb 13, 2012

The two cannons, which were placed in the park in 1908, had been manufactured for the frigate New Orleans, which was under construction in 1814.

The 204-foot-long U.S. Navy battleship was intended for use on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812, but the vessel was not completed in time to join the battle. The conflict ended in December 1814.

Her construction was halted in March 1815, after the conclusion of a peace agreement with the United Kingdom. She remained on the stocks and housed over — until sold on Sept. 24, 1883, to H. Wilkinson Jr. of Syracuse, N.Y. Wilkinson manufactured lead pencils, which is what became of the ship.

The New Orleans was to carry 130 cannons. Two of them ended up in Grand Haven’s Central Park on display, and rumors transpired regarding the oversized weapons as to whether they had ever engaged in battle.

The unveiling of the two flag-draped cannons took place at a ceremony at the park on Oct. 31, 1908. The Grand Haven Concert Band moved in a parade down Franklin Avenue, joined by the Company F Militia Regiment leading up to the event. The band played the “Star Spangled Banner” for the gathering.

The two brass cannons were identical and painted red. They were mounted on ornamental carriages. According to the Grand Haven Tribune, their precise locations were “one east and one west of the fountain.” A pile of cannon balls accompanied the Central Park cannons when they were originally placed at the location, but over time had been stolen.

One of the cannons was moved some time later to the Franklin Avenue curb, at the Armory building. It was given to the local war effort drive as well.

The two historic cannons were turned over to Grand Haven Junior High School for scrap salvage upon the action of City Council on March 15, 1943. The cannons were donated with the stipulation that the metal be used for the World War II effort with local manufacturers of munitions and equipment. A plant in Muskegon eventually melted them for reuse.

The two cannons were estimated to weigh 5 tons; which, at the government price of $8 per ton, netted the school $40. The money raised went to benefit a school group.

Perhaps the most curious thing about the two cannons is that there is no evidence they ever were used in battle. The Aug. 18, 1908, edition of the Tribune reported the two cannons had “no doubt ... belched forth shot and shell,” and that they “perhaps” were used during the Civil War. However, the claim could not be substantiated.

If true, the two cannons — which were constructed in 1814 for an unfinished frigate that never went to war — did not see battle until 129 years later when they were recycled for use in World War II.

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