Andover's green space known as The Park is missing one of its most recognizable features: the World War I-era cannon near the intersection of Chestnut and Bartlet streets.
And, no it hasn't been stolen or vandalized. The cannon, a French 75 — an actual piece of artillery captured from the Germans, not a replica — has been taken to be refurbished and given a new set of wheels.
"It would be pretty hard for someone to steal that and get away without being noticed," laughed Andover's Plant and Facilities Department Director Joe Piantedosi.
The footprint where the cannon, a focal point of the Park and a magnet for children to climb on, once stood has been filled in with wood chips. The cannon will be missing for Memorial Day — and for the Fourth of July, too.
Michael Burke, Andover's director of veteran's services, said the work to fix the cannon has been in the works for about a year. He estimated that it will take the entire summer to have the wooden wheels refurbished by a specialist.
The cannon itself will be sandblasted and repainted by a team of students from the Greater Lawrence Technical School. Once finished, the cannon should be back home in the Park this fall, "before the snow flies," Burke said.
Due to moisture and wear over the years, the cannon's wooden wheels began to rot and the spokes were splintering. Burke wanted to get the cannon out of the Park and away from young climbers this spring, because the deteriorating wheels had become a danger, he said.
"After 15 years (outside) in New England, that's what happens," Burke said. "I made the call to pull it off the Park."
On Monday, the cannon's wheels began to collapse as soon as the weapon was moved, he noted.
The cannon's restoration will be paid for by the Andover veteran's office budget, he said. They have not found a vendor, so Burke has no estimate of what the repairs might cost yet, he said.
He is not looking for a private donation to cover the cannon's refurbishment, he said. The $22,000 Korean War memorial, set to be unveiled this Memorial Day, was paid for by Margaret Doherty Chambers and Richard Chambers.
A crew from the town came and removed the cannon the morning of Monday, May 19, and drove it to the town yard. Workers have built the cannon a cradle to rest in for the summer, but for now, it's sitting on a trailer in the town yard vehicle maintenance shop.
Workers used heavy equipment to jack up the cannon, remove the wheels, and transfer it to a double-wheeled trailer, said Piantedosi.
The cannon was last refurbished in 1994, when it received new wheels and was repainted by GLTS students.
Members of the town's Patriotic Holiday Committee have been working with Burke to coordinate the cannon's refurbishment and are searching to find a specialist to work on the cannon's wheels.
The cannon's spoke and spindle-style wheels are thick and heavy, different than wagon or other wooden wheels, and need a special artisan to repair them, he said.
Jim Bedford, a Patriotic Holiday Committee member and Civil War re-enactor who has experience with cannons, has found a couple of leads for specialists, said Burke.
The cannon is a war trophy, said Burke, but is not a memorial to any fallen soldiers.
Andover's actual World War I memorial is the auditorium at Doherty Middle School, he said, though there are many in town who do not know this. There is a bronze plaque inside Memorial Auditorium's front door listing soldiers who served in World War I from Andover, and the auditorium, which connects Doherty Middle to the Town Offices, was built in their memory.
DID YOU KNOW? History behind the cannon in The Park
The cannon in the Park, near the intersection of Chestnut and Bartlet streets, is more than just a favorite place for children to climb.
The cannon is a weapon used in World War I, and was placed in The Park by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the 1930s, said Clare Curran-Ball, reference librarian at Memorial Hall Library.
In making plans for the cannon's refurbishment in 1994, Andover resident Jim Deyermond found an inscription on the weapon's barrel that read "captured by the 37th Div., Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 1916."
Excerpt from a Townsman article, Nov. 23, 1994:
Jim Deyermond, Andover resident and member of the Patriotic Holiday Committee, wrote a piece for the Andover Townsman on the history of the cannon in the Park in 1994, when it was last refurbished.
After some research, Deyermond determined the cannon was given to the town in 1932 by the local VFW post.
"The cannon was the last remaining WWI German cannon held by the War Department ... after WWI, several captured German cannons as well as other weapons were brought back to the United States as war trophies. Upon receiving the approval of the War Department to deliver the cannon to Andover where it would be dedicated to the town's WWI veterans, a location for the placement of the cannon was all that remained.
At Andover Town Meeting in 1931, a spirited debate arose as to where the cannon should be placed. Elm Green was the first choice for many citizens in town ... a long and vocal, and at sometimes angry, debate proved that sometimes the smallest or least expected article at Town Meeting can cause the biggest furor ... finally it was decided that a spot in the corner of The Park would be the site ... the cannon was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1932," wrote Deyermond.
Deyermond then called the U.S. Army Historical Center at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania to find out more about the inscription on the cannon. He found:
r The 37th division was formed during WWI from the Ohio National Guard. This division, known as the "Buckeye" division, arrived in France on June 23, 1918. Besides the Ohio guardsmen, ten men from Massachusetts were killed in action serving with the 37th division
r The division trained in France before being sent to the trenches of Europe
r Approximately one month after arriving in France, the Buckeyes were assigned to the U.S. Army's Fifth Corps and fought near Montfaucon, France. Also in the Army's Fifth Corps was the 1st tank brigade, commanded by then-Colonel George S. Patton
r On Oct. 18, 1918, the Buckeyes moved by train to the fields of Flanders, Belgium to help the French and Belgium armies in attempt to liberate Belgium from Germany
r On Oct. 30, the Buckeyes began the Ypres-Lys offensive with other Allied troops:
"This assault started near the Lys River and proceeded through the town of Cruyshautem and then into the village of Heurne on the banks of the River Scheldt. In the five miles of territory between these two villages, the 37th division captured many German prisoners and their weapons. Also captured in the area between the two villages were three German 105 millimeter field howitzers. One of these three cannons now sits in The Park. Just over one week after the capture of these cannons, World War I ended," Deyermond wrote.