Cemetery Cannon Seeks New Life

The Swampscott firefighters' union has taken on a drive to restore the World War I cannon. The Swampscott Police Relief Association donated to it on Friday.

Hornets nest in the cemetery cannon’s barrel.

Its wooden wheel spokes flash a broken-tooth smile.

And the carriage bears almost a century of rust.

But if Swampscott firefighters’ union members succeed, the World War I era gun with a fascinating history will get a face-lift that includes sturdier legs and tidy bridge work.

On Friday, Officer Sal Caruso of the handed a check for $250 to Swampscott fire Capt. Kevin Thompson in front of the gun-metal gray cannon.

Caruso, on motorcycle patrol that day, pedaled a Big Wheel as a kid directly across the street from the Swampscott Cemetery.

He grew up there on a house on Essex Street.

The cannon points towards his old house but this barrel won’t be firing any time soon.

In fact it never will. That was part of the agreement when it was placed at the American Legion lot.

The local Legion Post’s namesake, Leon E. Abbott, is one of the 12 Word War I veterans from Swampscott who were killed in the war to end all wars.

The American Legion Plot where the cannon stands holds the graves of World War I veterans.

Famous Swampscott WW I veterans include the actor Walter Brennan and Tony Pierro. Pierro was considered the oldest man in the United States when he died in 2007 at 110 years old. He was a combat veteran of World War I.

On Friday at the American Legion lot Swampscott Firefighters’s Union President Jim Snow inspected a gravestone marker.

It marks his grandfather’s burial plot. The Word War I veteran from Swampscottand is buried in the lot.

Swampscott firefighters noticed the cannon’s rough shape while placing flags on the graves of firefighters before Memorial Day, Thompson said.

They noticed the cannon’s decaying condition and members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1459 voted at a meeting to try to get the cannon in better shape.

They set up the cannon restoration fund and donated seed money. Thompson said the fund, including the seed money and police donation, stands at $1,000, or $1,500 short of the $2,500 needed to recondition the monument.

Next, the group found someone to do the work.

They found a guy, Tyler Kimball, who had restored an identical cannon for the city of Haverhill.

He agreed to take on the job for $2,500.

The work will include sandblasting, painting, replacing metal where it has rusted away and shipping out the wheels to Pennsylvania Amish hands for the spoke and wheel repairs.

The gun is called a French 75, considered by many as the first modern piece of artillery.

Thompson said it was the first cannon that would hold its place after firing, due to  a hydraulics system.

Up until then the cannon had to be repositioned to fire.

The French 75 was in service from 1898 until World War II, according to Wikipedia.

About 12,000 of the rapid-firing  cannons were manufactured by the end of Word War I.

They could fire rounds five miles, delivering 15 rounds per minute, the online encyclopedia said. An experienced crew could fire off 30 rounds a minute, a faster clip than contemporary bolt action rifles could fire.

The cannon has long since grown cold and quiet. It was placed at the cemetery plot in 1923, said Bill Wollerscheid, the American Legion Post commander.

Thompson and Wollerscheid hope the historic piece sees better days.

To donate, make out a check to the World War I Cannon Restoration Fund. It can be mailed to 76 Burrill St., Swampscott, MA, 01907. That’s the fire station. Donation may be dropped off at the fire house, as well.



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