One hundred and fifteen years ago, in January 1898, President McKinley ordered the Battleship Maine to put in at Havana Harbor, in Cuba.
Cuban Rebels had been struggling for three years to free Cuba from Spanish rule. American interests were also at stake, and the Spanish influence appeared to be a growing threat. The rebels had good reason for their anger, as conditions in Cuba continued to grow worse.
On Feb. 15, an explosion blew the battleship apart. Immediately Spain was blamed for the incident. After it sank, Spain denied any part, calling it an accident, and even offered to aid the men caught in the explosion. Two hundred and sixty-six American lives were lost. In the frenzy to assign blame, the United States Government began a Court of Inquiry. They found that a mine had exploded underneath the ship. With that finding, the United States government appropriated fifty million dollars for war preparations.
Teddy Roosevelt was then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and he condemned Spain for the action. Today it is generally believed that it was, as Spain said at the time, an accident caused by fire in a coalbunker that ignited a magazine. But people in the United States were fired up by reports in two major American Newspapers supporting the finding of the inquiry.
Teddy Roosevelt resigned his position with the Navy and formed the Rough Riders, a volunteer unit of the cavalry. He and his men were victorious in the battle of San Juan Hill. They went on to occupy Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines and put an end to the Spanish Empire.
The Treaty of Paris in 1898 freed Cuba from Spain and ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States. It was considered one of the shortest and most one-sided wars in U.S. history.
After this very abbreviated account of events, you are probably wondering what this could possibly have to do with Montgomery, Illinois.
The connection is with the historical old cannon at the Riverside Cemetery. It has been guarding the cemetery ever since anyone now living can remember. Until recently it was assumed to be a Civil War cannon. That was proven wrong when somebody started to research it.
Herschel Luckinbill, is a local resident and Vietnam Veteran who calls himself a Veteran’s advocate. He took a close look at the cannon one day and was dismayed at what he saw. It was in critical need of major repairs and restoration. When he investigated the markings he found that it was actually a cannon from the Spanish American War, and not the Civil War at all.
Taking on the daunting task of locating the manufacturer and obtaining repairs, he learned that it was built at the Watervliet Arsenal, in Watervliet, New York in 1889. The carriage was built in Illinois at the Rock Island Arsenal in 1887.
Once he learned the bad news about the cost of having a cannon rebuilder do the job, he wasted no time looking for local support and experts who could help. He found a blacksmith, a cartage company, and a sandblasting company willing to donate their labor. A man who once lived in Oswego, now living in Colorado is redoing the wooden spokes, and Painter’s Union Local #448 has agreed to paint the cannon. It is a labor of love for these men who believe wholeheartedly in the mission.
The cannon appraises, as is, at $20,000 and the estimated cost of repairs is approximately $9,000. Without extensive repairs the cannon is in danger of further deterioration.
With at least 29 Spanish American War Veterans buried at Riverside, and another 42 buried in Mt. Olivet, Spring Lake or Sacred Heart just across the river; the cannon is a fitting tribute to these brave men.
William Louis Beyer entered the war from South Dakota when he was 18. According to daughter Wilma, he served with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. He died in 1960. An earlier Montgomery Cemetery Walk featured Frederick Beyer, the patriarch of the Beyer family, who served with the 36th regiment during the Civil War.
Another Veteran featured was Bernard J. Cigrand. Records indicate that he was with the navy during the Spanish American War as a dental surgeon. He was associated with Col. Birge’s provisional regiment of Illinois volunteers. After the war, Dr. Cigrand joined the teaching staff of the University of Illinois’ Chicago School of Dentistry. He again served in World War I. He is best known locally as the Founder of Flag Day.
The people of Montgomery have always had enormous respect for their Veterans – who occupy a position of honor in our village. Any time they are asked to help a cause involving those who fought for our country, people have generously responded.
There will be a rollicking party at the Montgomery VFW on Feb. 16. Entertainers will be Nashville recording artists “Ricky Lee” and “Carrie Lyn.” Both enjoy national recognition and are sure to add sparkle to the evening. Eleno Silva of Riverview Restaurant, who always goes out of his way for the village, will furnish hors d’oeuvres. The list of door prizes continues to grow. Tickets are available for $30 each or two for $50 from Herschel Luckinbill – (630) 801-9591. How about giving someone a special Valentine surprise? You won’t want to miss this party.
Another special event is being planned for May 26, 2013, at 1 p.m. at Riverside Cemetery with the dedication of the refurbished cannon. This is being billed as a FAMILY PICNIC IN THE CEMETERY, sponsored by the Village of Montgomery. The featured speaker will be Joe Wiegand, a Teddy Roosevelt impersonator. He has performed at the White House for the President, and people who have heard him say he is outstanding. There will be no charge for this event, and you will be hearing more about it. Be sure to mark your calendars.