My Great Covid Adventure

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I’ve posted about my tiny ships and acquisitions.  But there are great local ties to some of those ships and I’ve really wanted follow up on them.  So today I said to hell with the lockdown I gotta get outta here and took a drive.

Just to be clear, I didn’t do anything unsafe.  I wore a mask when needed and kept social distancing, but I did get away for about six hours that took me across half of western Washington. My travels took me from Shoreline, just north of Seattle, to Woodland Park on Seattle’s Phinney Ridge, to Wright Park just above downtown Tacoma, out to Veteran’s Memorial Park near the Narrows Bridge.  Finally, there was the unexpected drive to the Veteran’s Museum in Chehalis.

I left South Hill and made it to the freeway entrance at 8:23. I didn’t know what to expect about traffic.  The daily traffic near my home seemed to simply grow after eight weeks of quarantine and I was prepared for a long slog up the “freeway of wasted lives,” but it wasn’t.  Traffic never slowed below 60mph, and at times it was easy to go 5-10 miles per hour faster. I followed 167 north to the the Kent-Des Moines and ducked up to I -5 heading north through the city. I exited I-5 and dodged up 15th NE to 150th and the entrance to Hamlin Park

I wanted to go to Hamlin Park in Shoreline.  Oddly, I was quite familiar with Hamlin.  It was near where I grew up in the 1960’s.  It was the park where Little League games were played.  We’d  wander through the trails when we held Cub Scout events there.   I remember an Easter egg hunt there.  I experienced my first make-out session in Hamlin Park.

But I don’t remember the two big steel guns in the lower park. There is a curious Facebook entry for the Shoreline historical museum that tries to fix the timeline for the guns’ arrival, but I just don’t think they have it right.  The guns weren’t in the park when I left for California in 1970.

The guns belong to the USS Boston, commissioned in 1887.  It was a ground-breaking ship, a member of the ABCD inductees into the new American steel navy. Commissioned as a “protected cruiser” along with the cruisers Atlanta, and Chicago, and the dispatch boat Dolphin.  The Boston  was armed with two eight inch 35 caliber guns, one each fore and aft.  They were in open mounts protected by a barbette.  The hull was pierced for six 6-inch guns, three per side.  The ship weighed in at over 3,000 tons powered by a not terrifically efficient coal fired engine that could make 14 knots.  But just to be sure she was given a full sail rig.

Some views of the USS Boston.  The line drawings in the upper left show the offset barbette arrangement of the two eight inch guns.  The sail rig is perfectly shown in the large photo right. A calm, composed photo of one of the America’s first steel warships At some time in 1899, while on a Far Eastern station, the sail rig was removed.

If the Boston seems somewhat primitive, it is not coincidental that the first steel ships were built in the early days of the American steel industry.  While Mr. Carnegie was becoming adept at quickly producing the steel rails that served the burgeoning railroad industry, it was new to the idea of bending the steel plates that went into building steel ships, or hardening the armor that would form their protection.  These early ships formed the aptly named “Squadron of Evolution.”

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Despite it’s limitations, the Boston was an important part of the early days of the New Navy.  It supported the overthrow of the legitimate Queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani in 1892.  The Boston, perhaps most notably, was with Commodore Dewey at Manila Bay in 1898.  It represented the Navy at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Astoria in 1805.  It offered aid and comfort to victims of the earthquake and fire in San Francisco in 1906. From 1911 to 1916 Boston was a training ship for the Oregon Naval Militia, and her days as a warship came to an end. Boston sailed to Bremerton and was converted to a supply ship, her guns removed. She would remain on duty as the USS Despatch, a receiving ship, a radio school until her demise in the scrapper’s yard in 1946.  A long life for a remarkable vessel.

The 30,000 pounds of steel that graces an area under the trees by Hamlin Park’s chief parking area are easy to see, and a short walk.  They are nicely displayed, with a plaque on each gun that tells of its achievements at Manila Bay.  Not unrealistic given that each gun would have been a separate battery.  But given the notably poor percentage of American shots that hit the mark at the stationary Spanish fleet in the Philippines, or the even more still Spanish fortifications, this may have been a bit of hyperbole.

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After about thirty minutes at Hamlin Park, it was time to move to another memorable park of my youth, Woodland Park.  Today, the park is kind of a spendy tourist destination that not only costs zoo admission, but parking fees as well.  Not so when I was young..  My mother and my aunt would often throw all their kids in the back of a station wagon and off we’d go to the zoo.  For free.  No costs.  And when I was really young, my uncle worked at the zoo and sometimes he’d take us places where we could see cockatiels and coatamundis up close. He had a special relationship with the penguins.

I have a real fondness for Woodland Park and it forms some of my earliest memories.  My grandparents lived on Phinney Ridge, and I have a dim memory of my grandfather taking me there, and being chased by a goose-because in those days they just wandered loose. Sigh.

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But one of my favorite places at the park was near the rose garden just outside the zoo.  There was a memorial to the Spanish American War veterans and some naval guns behind shields that seemed perfect for my excursion.  So I made my way south on Aurora, took 85th over to Greenwood which turns into Phinney and voila.  Grabbed a parking place near the green field where I should see the guns.  I was greeted by the grand Spanish American War Statue, but the guns . . . were gone. So I took a photo of the memorial and headed to my car in a huff.  Where could they have gone?

Dragged out my trusty iPad and typed out “removal of naval guns from Woodland Park,” and passed over the 2018 Seattle Times article I knew I couldn’t access. But this blog entry from Vintage West Woodland, explains how the Concord’s six-inch guns ended up in the Woodland Park War Garden and how they ended up there in the first place as “Battery Dewey. ”

I was so bummed.  Most of my visits to the zoo included climbing all over the guns in the War Garden at some point, though I had no idea they were from the Concord.

Concord was gunboat PG-3.  Another ship with an interesting history.   It was commissioned in 1891, at about 1,700 tons and was considered a “third-rate cruiser.” It was a member of the “Yorktown” class,” comprising three ships, Yorktown, Concord, and Bennington. Gunboats were used throughout the U.S. Navy and 13 official, numbered gunboats were in the fleet through 1906.  Concord was one of the larger PG’s and was armed with six inch guns instead of four inchers. It served with Dewey at Manila Bay, and then was stationed up and down the west coast, ending up in Seattle as a floating barracks for the Washington Naval militia.  The two guns were donated to the Woodland Park War Garden by the Spanish American War Veterans in 1915.  Concord was scrapped in 1929.

Oddly, the most recent ship ordered for my collection of Not-So-Great-White-Fleet ships was the Concord.

So where did the guns go?  Why, to one of Gene Anderson’s favorite places, the Chehalis Veterans Memorial Museum.  Could I squeeze a trip into my day?  Well maybe.

But my next stop was back in Tacoma, not far from my friend Tim’s house.  We’ve taken a look at it many times.  My suggestion was that it was a Spanish cannon, obvious from the markings, taken from the Spanish defenses of Manila Bay.  It was known many guns from those forts were quite obsolete, and with it’s casting date of 1784, that fit the bill.  What I didn’t quite get was the very light weight garrison carriage it was mounted on, which couldn’t possibly have been a stock item.  As with all things, the internet is your friend and Tacoma Metro Parks fills us in here.  Moro Castle, Santiago Bay. Wrong battle, but right idea. The markings on the barrel are really beautiful.

Wright Park is located  on the hill overlooking downtown Tacoma.  The cannon is on the northern edge of the park, east of the Seymour Botannical Observatory.

My next trip took me out to the Veterans Memorial Park on the Tacoma’s west side near the Narrows Bridge.  I wanted to get a picture of the bell from the USS Tacoma, a Denver-class light cruiser commissioned in 1904.  It was variously labeled a cruiser, a gunboat, and a scout cruiser.  Mostly the Tacoma served throughout Latin America, literally doling out “gunboat diplomacy” as needed.  Unfortunately the little cruiser, only 3,200 tons, was wrecked on a reef off Vera Cruz, Mexico while trying to show that government how to elect good men.  With the wreck sold off to a Mexican company, I guess it isn’t surprising we have a bell but no guns.

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With the clock showing about 12:15 and a projected arrival home set at 2:30, I had a choice.  I could call it a day early, or I could extend my trip to Chehalis and the Concord guns.  As long as traffic was decent, I knew I could make the trip easily.  In fact, except for a couple of loons on the road, the drive was pretty perfect. I made it to Chehalis at about 1:00.  Now where are those guns?

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I hoped they were in one of the fields near the museum as they had been at Woodland Park, but no such luck. Instead they were behind a chain link fence across the road from the Veteran’s Memorial Museum.  When the museum is open, access through the gate is also open.  Alas, closed for Covid 19. Pictures were a bit of a challenge, but I tried to maneuver the lens of my 35mm camera up to the gaps between the links.  I got a few decent shots, a lot more less decent.  It’s nice to know the Concord’s guns are being kept company by the dual purpose 5″/38 from the USS Colorado, and a F 105 Thunderchief.  It’s good to have friends.

 

9 comments on “My Great Covid Adventure

  1. Pete S/ SP says:

    Lovely bits of history.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

  2. Randy Miles says:

    Very cool photos, Kevin.
    Thanks for the history lesson.
    Great to read the background on the guns.

    Stay safe,
    Randy

  3. Anonymous says:

    enjoyed reading about your excursion. I remember my sister and i climbing around on those woodland park guns when we were kids back in the 1930s mom

    • kgsmyth55 says:

      It’s hard to forget them. I’m really disappointed they moved them. I think the reasons given were bogus, and the statue is still there. What’s the deal?

  4. Anonymous says:

    I remember climbing on the old guns with my sisters in the 1930’s.Mom

  5. Scott Williams says:

    I never knew about these guns, so thanks for writing this, Kevin. I need to go see that Spanish gun!

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