After a century in a Seattle park, a pair of boat guns from the Spanish-American War are moving to the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis – despite the objections of some in the Emerald City.
The 6-inch deck guns from the U.S.S. Concord have been displayed since 1915 at the War Garden in Seattle’s Woodland Park. But now, citing safety concerns and a six-figure cost of upkeep, the city is sending them to Lewis County, where a grant obtained by the museum will allow them to be restored and displayed safely.
“They'll be here, they'll be taken care of, they'll be restored like they need to be and they'll be on permanent display,” said Chip Duncan, the museum’s director.
On Wednesday and Thursday, workers unloaded the two 28,000-pound steel behemoths.
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The move has not been without controversy. Tim Humes, a Seattleite and Vietnam veteran, has long advocated for better upkeep of the park and its artifacts, and he believes the city is abdicating its duty to preserve the history of the locals who took part in the Spanish-American War.
“They are the defining monuments in this park,” Humes said. “You just cut the heart and soul out of this park.”
Humes, 69, is a retired social worker who spent 10 years at the Seattle Veterans Action Center. He believes the city is unwilling to hold onto the guns because they represent an obscure conflict from an imperialistic period of history that is thought of negatively today.
The cannon-sized weapons also were the only guns still on display at a Seattle park, and Humes believes the progressive city would rather sweep aside such militaryt displays. He contends, though, that it’s important to remember that complicated period of history, as well as the Americans who served during that time.
“We just don’t want to be reminded of our military history up here,” Humes said. “The guns were dramatic. The guns were in your face. They said, ‘You cannot ignore me.’ And the city just wants to ignore it. … These guns can encourage discussion in ways that a plaque can’t. You look at them and go – this is what a human being both operated and faced in combat.”
Seattle maintains the move isn’t for political reasons. Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin said the city has long been concerned about kids climbing on – and getting stuck in – the weapons. Recently, the city found high levels of lead in the soil surrounding the guns.
“It would have required us to remove the cannons, do soil remediation and cover them in some sort of epoxy,” she said. “From there, potentially building some sort of platform to put them on as a deterrent for climbing.”
The cost for such a project was close to $500,000, and the city decided it would be more practical to send them to the museum. Schulkin said the city reached out to veterans’ groups, who mostly approved of moving the guns to a military museum.
Humes disputes that, saying the city was secretive about its intentions, more concerned with ridding itself of the guns than any safety concerns. Had the city been more up-front about the situation, he believes he could have secured historical landmark status for the guns or rallied fellow veterans to come up with the resources necessary to keep them in place.
“I’m not very happy with the city’s lack of honesty regarding this,” he said.
Schulkin said upkeep for many monuments is funded through the Seattle Arts Commission, including “The Hiker” statue which also sits in the War Garden in tribute to the Spanish-American War. The guns, however, have no such funding source, and modern safety concerns take precedence.
“If this had happened today, if someone wanted to donate something like this to the park, there would 100 percent be a maintenance plan,” she said. “Ideas about what maintenance means, what is safe in a park, have changed quite a bit.”
Duncan said he reached out to Seattle when a museum member noticed the guns were falling into disrepair and graffiti wasn’t being removed. After securing a grant to cover the transportation and refurbishment of the guns, the museum was given the go-ahead to take custody of the artifacts. The museum will set up a Hazmat tent, hire a professional sandblaster to remove the lead paint and rust, then repaint and reassemble the guns. Duncan estimates the process will take until next year.
Duncan said the weapons took part in the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines, a decisive naval battle in the four-month conflict fought in 1898.
“The wars that were fought and the territory that was gained during that time set the stage for everything that happened in the 20th century,” Duncan said. “There are no Spanish-American War veterans alive anymore. And the history is frankly quite muddled. … For us to have it and be the caretakers of it, it gives us a chance to keep their memories alive.”
Humes praised Duncan’s efforts, saying the artifacts are in good hands, even though he would have preferred to see Seattle take responsibility.
“He is doing the absolute right thing,” Humes said. “Chip is the person to take care of it.”
Duncan said he will invite Humes to speak at a dedication ceremony when the guns are put on display.
The battery will be placed alongside a gun from the World War II-era U.S.S. Colorado, which the veterans museum obtained from Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry in 2011. Duncan is planning to paint the guns black and white to match their historical look.