- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2006

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — A rare Civil War cannon that was quietly sold to a collector and then returned for an inflated price after a public outcry is back at Groton Rural Cemetery, where it had sat undisturbed for more than a century.

Yesterday, the central New York town rededicated the 1,700-pound Parrott naval cannon to veterans of all wars.

“It was a very fitting ceremony, a good reminder to our citizens of the contributions made by those the cannon honors,” local historian Lee Shurtleff said at the Fourth of July ceremony attended by about 100 people.

The town’s cemetery association sold the cannon, one of 78 known survivors from the war, in 2004. It went largely unnoticed for nine months until villagers heard that another rural New York town had sold its cannon and then paid a steep price to have it returned.

A search of historical records determined that Groton’s 145-year-old cannon didn’t belong to the cemetery association. It was bequeathed to a veteran’s post, and the circular plot where it stood was donated to the town in 1901.

The buyer, Kenneth Watterson, agreed to return it on the condition that he receive $23,000 — the $15,000 he paid, plus $5,000 for a replica he had supplied, plus a $3,000 broker’s fee.

The cash-starved cemetery association was in the middle of organizing a fundraiser when David Brooks, a retired printing salesman in New Hampshire who grew up in Groton, offered to cover the $8,000 balance owed to Mr. Watterson.

“He paid $4,000 and I paid $4,000,” said his sister, Helen Brooks, a retired editor in Rochester. Their father, George S. Brooks, was a two-term mayor of Groton in the 1940s. Their older brother, Hugh, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.

Mr. Watterson, a retired manufacturing executive, boasted of owning the nation’s second largest private collection of Civil War cannons, howitzers and mortars. He recently closed his Civil War Artillery Museum near Pittsburgh and moved away from the area.

Dozens of bronze and iron Civil War cannons that have adorned cemeteries and parks across the country for a century or more have ended up in private hands during the past 20 years, but few of the sales prompted the kind of outcry that erupted in the Lake Ontario town of Kendall near Rochester in March 2005.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at a board meeting after town officials surreptitiously sold Kendall’s 816-pound cannon to Mr. Watterson for $15,000. Mr. Watterson sold it back for $27,000. The extra costs were covered by a New York state grant.

The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War is trying to drum up support in Congress to quell the trade in cannons. A 2003 law, the group noted, makes it a federal offense to “injure or destroy” armed forces monuments on public property or transport them across state lines.

To mark the rededication, town Supervisor Glenn Morey said, a new plaque has been added with a vow “to commemorate the memory of all men and women who served our country in times of war and especially to those who were wounded or died as a result of that service.”

“May this cannon remain here in perpetuity,” the plaque reads.

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