The Story of Morristown’s World War I Monument

Remembering the Fallen: Morristown’s World War I Memorial

By Maeve Ford, North Jersey History and Genealogy Center

Morristown Topics Magazine was a local society magazine in the 1920s. It featured the memorial in the issue of November 17, 1928.  From the Collections of the North Jersey History & Genealogy Center, Morristown & Morris Township Library
Aerial view of Vail Mansion before the War Memorial construction, by Morristown photographer Frederick Curtiss

Morristown’s World War I Memorial Cenotaph (derived from the Greek term for “Empty Tomb”) is prominently located in front of the Vail Mansion on South Street and Miller Road.

The reflecting pool, monument and its surrounding platform commemorate those residents who gave their lives during World War I.

It was officially dedicated in 1928, on the 10th anniversary of the 1918 Armistice agreement.

Though a citizen’s committee was formed to aid the creation of the monument in the years immediately following the War, the committee never approved a monument plan.

By the time the idea for a cenotaph — a marker for someone who is buried at a different location — was finalized and approved, campaigners in town had been clamoring for an outdoor public memorial for a decade.

Reflecting pool, designed by John Brinley, 11/11/1928, by Morristown photographer Frederick Curtiss

Establishing a monument was such a popular idea that it became one of Clyde Potts’s campaign promises when he ran for mayor in 1922.

The most prominent concept was for a commemorative athletic field. Citizens of the town, as well as organizations, were invited to an open discussion of the plan.

The athletic field plans never came to fruition, though one memorial does predate the Cenotaph – a 23-panel series of plaques in the Morristown & Morris Township Library featuring the names of over 800 residents who participated in the War.

The installation by well-known metalworker, Samuel Yellin, was completed and hung in 1925. Moreover, a large golden eagle that formerly hung above the door of the Morristown Armory resides in the central tower of the Library’s 1917 wing.

Many in town felt that an outdoor monument similar to the Civil War and Spanish American War monuments was in order; therefore, the Morristown Board of Aldermen created a War Memorial Committee in 1926. Plans were submitted in 1926 but the Committee could not reach consensus for two years.

In 1928, the Morristown Board of Aldermen approved a $40,000 budget for a project to improve the grounds of the Town Hall to a standard appropriate for the monument, with another $12,000 to be raised through a donation drive.  At the time of this approval, the plans for the monument included the cenotaph and the reflecting pool.

 

Dedication Ceremony, Armistice Day, Mayor Clyde Potts at far right, 11/11/1928.

The final plans were approved by the Board and heavily supported by local organizations such as the American Legion and the Women’s Civic Association.

Cenotaph decorated with floral wreaths, 11/11/1928, by Morristown photographer Frederick Curtiss

The Morristown World War I Memorial was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1928, with a ceremony that included a parade down South Street, invocations and speeches by Morristown Mayor Clyde Potts and other local political and military leaders, as well as a two-minute period of silence, and laying of wreaths onto the cenotaph.

 

The eight foot-tall granite memorial features a bronze plaque with the winged figure of Victory, by Joseph Nicolosi. Photograph by Frederick Curtiss
On the reverse side of the plaque is a list of twenty-six Morris area residents who died while serving in the Great War.

Italian-born sculptor Joseph Nicolosi designed the monument from his New York studio where he also designed statues and busts. His work earned awards from the American Veterans Society and the Beaux Arts Institute.

The new landscaping was designed by John R. Brinley of Brinley & Holbrook, a Columbia University graduate who was a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, member of the Board of the Morristown Library, and trustee of Morristown Memorial Hospital.

Brinley was well known throughout the area for his successful re-design of the Morristown Green and many prestigious residential commissions.

One of John Brinley’s earlier plans placed the monument at the opposite end of the pool, closer to the Vail Mansion (From the Brinley and Holbrook Collections)

On the cenotaph a poem is enscribed by Edgar Lee Masters, which Masters read aloud at the dedication ceremony, and the words “Dulce et decorum Est pro patria mori,” by the Roman poet Horace, meaning “Sweet and fitting is it to die for one’s country.”

Four bronze lamps and two bronze flagpoles encircle the memorial, which is itself on a marble platform. The bases of the lamps feature inscriptions of battles that soldiers from Morristown served in. On the flagpoles are sculptures of a mother with her child, a soldier, and a farmer with a plow.

During the 1990s, the cenotaph and many other Morristown monuments were badly in need of restoration. Volunteers from veterans’ organizations and conservation groups worked with the Morristown government on million-dollar restoration projects. The cenotaph was again restored in 2007.


Raymond A. Barris – The Sailor Who Died After the Armistice
The Barris family of Mt. Kemble Avenue was active in Morristown’s social life. Members were involved in the Mt. Kemble Fire Company, the Elks Lodge, the Board of Education, the First Presbyterian Church, and various society circles in town. A lifelong resident of Morristown, Raymond Barris attended Hillside School as a child and took part in many activities in the town. In August of 1918, at the age of 19, Barris enlisted in the US Navy and served aboard the USS Maine. Toward the end of the war, Seaman Barris fell ill like so many others, most likely of influenza. He was a patient at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia until his death on Jan. 22, 1919. He is buried at Holy Rood Cemetery in Morristown.

Martin A. Cook – Son of Immigrants
Martin A. Cook was born in New York City on July 24, 1894, to Irish immigrant parents who later moved to Morristown in 1904. The family lived on James Street and Green Street. Before enlisting in the Aviation Signal Corps, Cook lived and worked as a chauffeur in New York City. Upon enlisting in March of 1918, Private Cook trained with the 40th Squadron, 3rd Regiment at the Aviation Camp in Waco, Texas. He transferred to the flight training school in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he earned certification as a dispatch rider. Private Cook soon fell ill with pneumonia and died in St. Paul on Oct. 11, 1918. Private Cook attended the Bayley School and Assumption Church as a Morristown resident. He was survived by his parents, three sisters, and his brother, none of whom served in the War.

Charles J. Davidson – The Massachusetts Mason Who Enlisted From Morristown
Charles J. Davidson was born and raised in Swampscott, Mass. He lived in Massachusetts until his 1902 marriage to Grace Choate. His job as a telephone engineer meant he frequently traveled for work, which ultimately brought him to Morristown where he lived for over ten non-consecutive years. He was living in Hackensack when he registered for the draft in September of 1918. Private Davidson joined the US Marine Corps in the 6th Machine Gun Battalion, 2nd Division. He was wounded in action at St. Mihiel and died from his injuries on Nov. 17, 1918. He was one of the oldest Morristown soldiers to die in the war, as he died at the age of 40. He is buried at St. Mihiel American Cemetery.

Charles S. Dean – A White Officer Who Led African American Troops
Lifelong Morristown resident Charles S. Dean was active in high society circles. Born on Sept. 11, 1888, Dean grew up living on Franklin Street and attending St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. As an adult, reports of his social activities and trips to New York and Canada made the town newspaper. Dean worked as a clerk before enlisting in the US Army on June 4, 1917. He was promoted to First Lieutenant of the 369th Regiment, 93rd Division of the US Army, a colored regiment also known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.” He was killed in action on the second day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, on Sept. 27, 1918, and posthumously awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his service and buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.

Elbert C. Decker – The New York Transplant
Elbert C. Decker was born and raised in Ozone Park, New York. As an adult, he and his family moved to Morristown and lived on Mt. Kemble Avenue. Decker found work as a mason for Sturgis Brothers in Morristown. Private Decker enlisted in the US Army in August 1918 and trained at Camp Meade with the Sanitary Squad 90, 11th Division. Soon after arriving in Maryland, the Private contracted the flu. He died on Oct. 5, 1918, and his body was transported back to Morristown for burial.

Frank J. Feeley – The Discharged Soldier with a Criminal History
Private Frank J. Feeley was raised at the Feeley family home on Budd Street, was uneducated and worked as a laborer. He had a significant encounter with the law when he was 17, in 1909, when he plead guilty to assault and battery of two young boys and was sentenced to probation. Private Feeley was drafted into the US Army in 1918. He was sent to the Syracuse Recruit Camp to train but was discharged. He died in Maryland on July 30, 1918. The circumstances surrounding his death are unclear and largely undocumented, but he likely died of an illness contracted at the Camp.

Ada Ferguson – The Nurse
Ada Ferguson, the first nurse from Morristown to make the ultimate sacrifice in World War I, was a native of Spring Valley, N.Y. While she had a home in Spring Valley, she considered Morristown her residence as well. She frequently stayed in Morristown with friends and was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. She was both a student and graduate of Memorial Hospital, and worked as a maternity nurse and with children. Miss Ferguson was unwell before the War and enlisted in the service against her doctor’s advice. She served at Fort Ontario base hospital in Oswego, N.Y. in the fall of 1918. She died there of her illness on October 9.

Benjamin Ford – From Michigan to Morristown
Benjamin Ford was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan to Louise and Edwin Ford, a noted Morristown resident and landowner. Ford grew up on Washington Street attending Morristown schools and the South Street Presbyterian Church. The Ford family were frequent travelers, and Benjamin was working as a farmer in Frederick County, Virginia when the United States entered the war. As a farmer, he appealed for draft exemption but was denied. He enlisted from Virginia into Company L of the 352nd Infantry, 88th Division. Second Lieutenant Ford was stationed in Danmarie, France, when he was killed by a bomb at camp on Oct. 28, 1918. Lieutenant Ford died at the age of 23. His body was not returned to Morristown until 1921 and not buried until July of 1922, when his parents returned from their own stay in France. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery.

Dr. James B. Griswold – The Good Doctor
James Brown Griswold was born in Lyme, Conn., on Dec. 10, 1870. He earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Dartmouth College and settled on South Street in Morristown in 1899.  Dr. Griswold served on the surgical staff at Memorial Hospital. He also worked at the local jail hospital and as a gynecologist at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. Dr. Griswold was also involved in local politics, having run for the Morristown Board of Aldermen on the Republican ticket in 1908. Lieutenant Griswold came from an established military family – his brother, Major Richard S. Griswold, died in the Spanish-American War and brother Lieutenant George Griswold served in World War I with the Engineering Corps. Lieutenant James Griswold volunteered for the Medical Corps the day after the United States entered World War I. He deployed to Camp Dix on July 20, 1917, and served as an assistant surgeon. After three months in the service, he was recommended for a promotion to the rank of Captain. However, he died on Oct. 25, 1917, after a short illness, before he could be officially promoted. He was survived by his wife and two children, as well as his sister and three brothers. He is buried in Lyme.

Daniel M. Henchey – Sole Supporter of Widowed Mother
Daniel Henchey was born to Irish immigrant parents and raised in Morristown. He was 21 years old when the United States entered World War I and, since the death of his father, was the primary caregiver for his mother. On his draft card, Private Henchey appealed for exemption due to being the only support for his mother, who he listed as a dependent. His exemption was denied and he entered the US Army. He trained at Camp McClellan in Anniston, Ala., as a member of Battery F of the 104th New Jersey Field Artillery, later known as the 104th Trench Mortar Battery. Private Henchey deployed to France in the fall of 1918 and was killed in action there that September. He is buried at Holy Rood Cemetery in Morristown.

Minot Jones – The Heir to a Fortune
When his father died in 1912, Minot Jones became an orphan at the age of 13. Under the guardianship of his father’s colleague, he spent his adolescence in the Jones home at 86 Miller Road and attended St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown. Minot Jones registered for the draft in September of 1918. On his draft card, he described himself as being of tall height and slender build with brown eyes and brown hair. He was also listed as an unemployed student. He was known for walking up and down Miller Road in his uniform. He enlisted on Oct. 8, 1918, and deployed in the United States Tank Corps to Camp Polk in Raleigh, N.C., on Oct. 15, 1918. While stationed in North Carolina, Jones contracted an illness, most likely pneumonia, and died at a military hospital in Asheville on Dec. 16, 1918. He was the heir to a fortune totaling over $918,000 from his father’s business with the Morristown Trust Company and the lumber industry. Minot Jones was due to inherit this fortune at the age of 21, but died at the age of 19, unmarried and childless, so the sizeable estate was put toward the creation of the Jones Library in Amherst, Mass. Minot Jones was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Morristown.

Edward Kane – The Beloved Fireman
Prior to enlisting as a Private in the 104th Trench Mortar Battery of the US Army, Edward Kane was a respected volunteer fireman. A lifelong Morristown resident, Kane worked as a bricklayer in Madison and served on the investigating committee of the Morristown Washington Company Fire Engine. Edward Kane was born on Jan. 7, 1890, in Morristown and lived on Speedwell Avenue for his entire life. He enlisted in what was locally called “Battery F” in 1917 and trained at Camp McClellan in Anniston, Ala. He deployed to Camp de Mencons and died there of pneumonia on Sept. 27, 1918. As a member of the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association, Private Kane was among 103 firemen who served and died in World War I honored by a bronze plaque at the State Firemen’s Home in Boonton in 1921. Private Kane was the first fireman from Morristown to be lost in the War.

Gustav Kissel – An Ace Pilot
First Lieutenant Gustav Kissel was an accomplished young man before his military service, having attended the Milton Academy and Harvard University, where he received honors and played sports. He graduated from Harvard in 1917 and signed up for the Air Service of the US Aviation Corps. He served with former classmate and President Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Second Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt, who ultimately was killed in action in France. Kissel also served under the command of his brother-in-law, Captain Jim Miller, who also was shot down. Both his commanding and fellow officers described his excellent flying skills and bravery. Lieutenant Kissel trained in England and was sent on his first mission over France on April 12, 1918. His plane was shot down and he was presumed to be missing for several months until his parents were informed by the war office that he had been shot down. His sister Eleonora, who was stationed in England with the Y.W.C.A., mounted a months-long effort to locate her brother’s grave. Gustav Kissel is buried in Pont du Hem Cemetery in France. His grave is the only American burial in the cemetery.

Walter A. Loree – The Postman Committed to Service
In August of 1918, the US Military put out a call for post office clerks to volunteer for the Service, which attracted the attention of Walter Loree, of Morris Street.
Corporal Loree enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard, which was federally mobilized during the War. He had been working as a post office clerk in Morristown for a year when he enlisted. He was sent to Camp Greene in Charlotte, N.C., but on after arriving, he contracted the flu, which worsened into pneumonia. Corporal Loree died on Oct. 24, 1918, at the base hospital. He is buried in Hilltop Cemetery in Mendham.

Domencio Malvani – The Former Italian Soldier Who Fought for the United States
Domencio Malvani came to the United States from Naples at the age of 23, in June of 1913. He arrived in New York City aboard a ship named Lazio. He was born and raised in Ginosa and came to the United States with his mother and father. Malvani settled in Morristown and worked as a laborer for the Weldon Concrete Corporation. He was drafted into the US Army in 1917 and was assigned to the 327th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Division. On his draft card, he listed his previous military service as an Infantry position in the Italian Army. During his service with the US Army, Private Malvani participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He was killed in action on Oct. 10, 1918, and is buried at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.

John Bard McVickar – An Elite Aviator
Like so many soldiers in the Great War, Lieutenant John Bard McVickar of the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps died of pneumonia. Lieutenant McVickar died in France on Sept. 25, 1918. McVickar attended St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and St. Paul’s School before he enlisted in the US Army in October of 1917. He was deployed the following month, on November 3 and was assigned to the 112th Field Artillery Regiment of the New Jersey National Guard. He transferred to the Signal Corps (a precursor to the modern Air Force) and received flight training at Princeton University. He was sent to France in the fall of 1918 and died within a month. A lifelong resident of Morristown, Lieutenant McVickar was born on Dec. 4, 1896 to William Bard and Mary Louise McVickar, of Miller Road.  Lieutenant McVickar is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Morristown. He was survived by his mother, Mary Louise McVickar, and his sisters Phyllis and Elizabeth.

Daniel J. Meskill – “He Had No Fear”
Sergeant Daniel J. Meskill, of 114 Washington St., was among the first Morristown men to die in World War I. He graduated from Seton Hall College and worked as an insurance clerk for Prudential Insurance Company in Newark. He was drafted at the age of 29 in 1918 and trained as a member of the Medical Detachment of the 309th Infantry, 79th Division. He was killed in action, administering aid to wounded soldiers at St. Mihiel on Sept. 25, 1918. Sergeant Meskill originally was buried in France, but in 1921 his body was transported home to Morristown and interred at Holy Rood Cemetery. He was survived by his parents, his brother Private Thomas Hilary Meskill, and two sisters. At Sergeant Meskill’s funeral service, his commanding officer declared, “He had no fear at all.”

Joseph H. Murphy – The Twice-Buried Soldier
Private Joseph H. Murphy, a lifelong resident of Morristown, was killed in action at Grand Pre on Oct. 20, 1918. He was a member of the 308th Field Artillery, Battery F. He trained at Camp Dix, as did his brother, Private John T. Murphy of the 113th Infantry. Private Joseph Murphy graduated from Bayley High School in 1910. He was active in the Knights of Columbus and the local Alert baseball team. He was a painter employed by his father and was 27 years old when he died. He was originally buried in Lancon, France, but his body was moved after the War and buried in Morristown. His burial in France, according to a letter sent to his mother the following June by Private Murphy’s comrades, was attended by friends and the company chaplain. Four of the men that served with Private Murphy and attended his burial in France came to his funeral in Morristown and served as his pallbearers.

Samuel Nixon – The Morristown Soldier for the British Army
Though Samuel Nixon was raised in Great Neck, Long Island, his father William and grandfather Samuel were both from Morristown. Nixon often visited Morristown, both as a child and as an adult. He attended Cornell University and participated on the track team there. In 1916, he traveled to Europe and enlisted in the British Army. He achieved the rank of Driver, which is equal to the rank of Private in the US Army, in the Royal Field Artillery, Duke of Cambridge’s Own Regiment out of Middlesex. On Aug. 7, 1917, he was killed in action on the Western Front. He posthumously was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.

Harry Osborne – The Everyman Soldier
Private Harry Osborne was, in many ways, the typical enlisted man in World War I. He had no military history prior to the War. He did not graduate college and very likely did not attend at all. He worked a physical job as a laborer for the Knight & Carpenter Company in Morristown. Private Osborne lived as a young adult in the town he grew up in. Even his appearance was average – on his draft card, he described himself as being of medium height and build. In 1918 he enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard and was sent to Camp Greenleaf in Lytte, Ga. Like so many American soldiers, he died not from combat but of illness on March 8, 1919, at the age of 26. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Morristown.

Anjello Petraccarro – The First Drafted Morristown Man to Be Killed in Action
Anjello Petraccarro was born in Tugocovin, Italy, on May 4, 1890. He came to the United States as an adult with his father and uncle. Petraccarro and his uncle settled in Morristown, but his father went elsewhere and fell out of contact with them. Petraccarro lived on Water Street and worked as a farmer for Henry Niece of Morris Township and a laborer at the Macculloch Miller estate. He was drafted in February of 1918 into the 309th Infantry Regiment, 78th Division. He was killed in action that Sept. 19 at St. Mihiel and became the first drafted soldier from Morristown to die in the War. Private Petraccarro’s uncle died just before Anjello deployed, so telegrams informing his family of his passing were unable to be delivered. Morristown leaders attempted to contact the mayor of Tugocovin, but to no end. Private Petraccarro was buried at St. Mihiel American Cemetery.

William R. Spann, Jr. – A Man from a Military Family
William R. Spann, Jr. lived in several different areas of the United States during his short life. He was born and spent much of his childhood in Dallas, Texas. His family moved to Shelbyville, Ky., during his teenage years and eventually to Morristown when he was a young adult. At the age of 19, Corporal Spann visited his old home in Shelbyville and enlisted in the US Marine Corps. His brother Paul enlisted in the US Navy and his brother Francis enlisted in the US Army. Paul Spann served on the USS Siboney and Francis Spann served in the 50th Infantry. Both Paul and Francis survived the War. Corporal Spann served in the 13th Regiment and sailed to France in September of 1918. He died of meningitis in Brest on the following October 20. His family was informed of his death when Paul Spann visited the hospital and was informed by the staff of his brother’s passing.

Malcolm White – A Volunteer, A Hero
Malcolm White was a native of Southampton, N.Y. However, he was active in the Morristown community as a civil engineer who did work at the Morris County Golf Club and as a member an Elks Lodge based in Morristown. When the War began, White was already serving as a First Lieutenant of a Volunteer Machine Gun Company in Morristown that chiefly patrolled a detention camp. Lieutenant White enlisted from Morristown into a New York engineering corps and trained at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Lieutenant White was renowned for his heroism; he made international news when he and several comrades removed ammunition shells from a building near an active German bomb drop zone. The following day, May 18, 1918, he was killed in a shelling at Cantigny. His body was returned to New York and buried at Southampton Cemetery on March 22, 1921.

Emanuel Williams – His Family Told that he Died Twice
Emanuel G. Williams, also known as Manuel Williams, was a coachman and laborer before the War, and a lifelong Morristown resident who lived on Clinton Place. Williams, like many of the Town’s African American residents, enlisted and was stationed in the Quartermaster Corps 310th Labor Battalion, Company A in March of 1918. The following May, Private Williams’ family received word that he had died aboard the USS Hancock, en route to the Western Front. In early June, they again received a telegram informing them of their son’s death, although this time the cause of death was listed as pneumonia. Private Williams’ date of death is officially listed as May 8, 1918, and he was 30 years old when he died. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Morristown and in 1938 received a military headstone from the War Department.

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