Marblehead sticks to its gun

COURTESY PHOTO
This 1803 Spanish Cannon is now resting in the basement of Abbot Hall in Marblehead.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

MARBLEHEAD — An 1803 Spanish Cannon that somehow made its way to Marblehead after the Spanish American War has found a new home in the basement of Abbot Hall.

“It will likely be the location for the foreseeable future,” said Town Administrator John McGinn in an email. “There has been some conversations about possibly building a small structure on the grounds of Abbot Hall that could be used to display the cannon and protect it from the weather elements. If the town decides to go that direction, we would need to design the structure, identify funding and actually build it. All of that will obviously take time. In the meantime, the new location of the cannon works fine and eliminates the problems that existed with the Gun House location.”

The cannon, which was made in Spain, had been stored at the Gun House on Elm Street since it was rolled down into Salem Harbor in the 1970s. It was vandalized when it was displayed at the Waterside Cemetery at the Spanish American War veterans’ cemetery. It was recovered and refurbished by the Marblehead Artillery Company for the town’s 1976 bicentennial celebration.

When the artillery company disbanded, ownership of the cannon was transferred to the Glover’s Marblehead Regiment, a Revolutionary War reenactment group.

The cannon was captured by members of the USS Marblehead in the Battle of Guantanamo Bay during the Spanish-American War. Folklore has it being brought out of Cuba and transported by some members of Marblehead’s Naval Militia volunteers subsequent to their return from the war.

Members of the Regiment told the Board of Selectmen last July that the cannon had been temporarily placed outside of the Gun House for the July 4 holiday, but requested it be moved, because the street is not as visible to tourists as other sections of the town.

Last month, members of the regiment came to an agreement with McGinn that the cannon would be stored in the basement of Abbot Hall, with other historical artifacts, according to Seamus Daly, captain of the regiment.

“It’s a piece of Marblehead history, so the public should absolutely have an opportunity to view it,” Daly said.

McGinn said moving the cannon to its new location accomplishes three things. It solves the problem with the old location since the cannon was placed on a right of way and couldn’t remain there. It provides protection from the weather, especially with the winter weather coming soon. And, he said, the move places the cannon in a visible public space.

“Abbot Hall is visited year round by many, both town residents and tourists, who are interested in the town’s rich history,” McGinn said in an email. “We plan to have information about the cannon’s history placed near the cannon for the public to read.”

Glover’s members worked for about four hours to move the cannon into the building, McGinn said. Work included disassembling and reassembling the piece.

Robert Erbetta, sailmaster of Glover’s Regiment, described the cannon in a prior interview as either bronze or brass. Initially the cannon was not rifled, a feature added in the mid-19th century, and was most likely taken off a garrison or ship’s carriage when it was liberated during the war. It now sits on a field carriage, which is more typical of the Revolutionary War era.

Sean Conley, a member of Glover’s Regiment, said that moving the cannon was a strenuous task with little breaks in between. It wasn’t until he and his fellow comrades got to the Old Town Hall while walking the cannon, that he realized that history was again being made.

“I think we have achieved our task and Gen. Washington would not be disappointed,” Conley said in an email. “I hope we never have to move that cannon again and maybe someday I’ll be able to take my grandchildren by Abbot Hall and tell them the story of how I was part of the regiment that got it there.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

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