ALPENA - Each July Fourth the Alpena community hosts a grand celebration for our nation's independence and freedom. The date also represents another significant event in Alpena's history - the anniversary of the dedication of the Navy cannon that graces the front lawn at city hall.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the city being presented the cannon from the USS Maine, which was destroyed in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, on Feb. 15, 1898, while on a mission of peace. The sinking of the Maine, which claimed the lives of 266 officers and sailors, triggered the declaration of war against Spain in the Spanish-American War.
The war delayed the salvage of the battleship, but in 1912 the ship was raised, many articles removed and given a proper burial deep at sea. Soon afterward Congressman George Loud of Michigan forwarded communications from the Alpena Chamber of Commerce and the city council requesting a piece of the historical ship for display.
News Photo by Steve Schulwitz
Members of the VFW?Post 2496 Honor Guard in Alpena fire a round in salute marking the 100th anniversary of the cannon on the lawn of city hall. The city was presented with the cannon, which was on the USS?Maine, and celebrated its arrival July 4, 1912.
The request was granted by the United States Secretary of Navy and on July 4, 1912, Alpena hosted a giant celebration to honor the new addition to the community with Loud on hand for the unveiling.
Alpena Navy history and weapons buff Merl Melton said more than 7,000 people visited the city that Independence Day, many of whom wanted to see and learn about the origin of the cannon. He said today there are artifacts from the ship in museums and on display in other communities, but having one of the guns is rare. There is one at Fort Allen Park in Portland, Maine, and another at the Navy Historical Center in Washington. There are also cannon parts that were distributed around the United States.
"There have been pieces of the ship on display all over the country and dozens and dozens of cities have items such as rudders, smoke stacks and even the bow ornament, but there aren't too many verified guns from the Maine on display," Melton said. "The dedication for the cannon in 1912 was huge and people came from all over and in those days it wasn't as easy to get from one place to another. People came in by trains and horse and buggy and it was probably the biggest event in Alpena's history for a long time. Part of the celebration was there was an airplane which was going to try to fly. It crashed on takeoff, but in 1912 to have an airplane fly around your city was a big deal."
Today's activities in Alpena
8 a.m.-4 p.m.:?Sandcastle contest -Starlite Beach
9 a.m.:?Dork Brothers 5K run - Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
11 a.m.:?Lafarge Fourth of July Parade
10 a.m.-6 p.m.: Thunder Bay Maritime Festival - Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
2:30 p.m.:?Cardboard Regatta - Thunder Bay River
5:30 p.m.:?Alpena City Band Coocert - Bay View Park Band Shell
7-10 p.m.:?Tequila and You, a tribute to Kenny Chesney -?Bay View Park Band Shell
Dusk:?Fireworks on the Alpena waterfront
Facts About Alpena's Cannon
- recovered off the USS Maine in 1912.
- presented to the City of Alpena on July 4, 1912
- weighs 21,856 pounds
- used a six-inch 30 caliber shot
- took a team of seven sailors about 90 seconds to load the weapon
- needed 18.9 pounds of black powder each time it fired
- range was about 9,000 yards
- still property of the U.S. Navy
He said once the cannon was fired the shot would travel about 1,950 feet per second for about 9,000 yards. During battle, however, similar guns would need to be significantly closer to its target to improve accuracy. Melton said a team of seven men was used to load it and it would take them about 90 seconds.
According to Melton the cannon is a staple in the community and has been enjoyed by children, parents and grandparents for generations. He said at one point or another most people have climbed on, admired or taken pictures of it.
"The cannon is such a part of life in Alpena. There probably isn't anyone around here who was born before it got here," Melton said. "It has always been here, but so many people don't realize the significant history it has. Maybe this is a chance to bring it forth and put it on a place of honor like it really should be."
After learning about the 100-year anniversary of the cannon, the city arranged a special rededication before Monday's Alpena Municipal Council meeting. During the ceremony local veterans offered a 21-gun salute for those who lost their lives on the ship and Mayor Matt Waligora read a proclamation. Melton said there will be a lot of people out and about during today's Fourth of July celebration. He said it would be the perfect time for people to look over the cannon, get a photo with it and appreciate its historical significance.
"There will be a lot to do Wednesday, but the cannon isn't far from anything that is going on," Melton said. "Maybe people will stop by, look at the gun and see how well preserved it is and get some photos. I hope at the very least people will learn more about where the cannon is from and what it has meant to our nation's and Alpena's history."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.