Last week the Village of Roslyn approved a Boy Scout’s proposal to restore a cannon, plaques and flowers at the Ellen E. Ward Memorial Clock Tower site.
The USS Don Jorge Juan Cannon will be cleaned and repainted by Henry Woytysiak, a Roslyn Heights resident and Troop 200 member, along with other scouts this spring.
The trustees unanimously agreed on the fate of the cannon. But there was one question that neither Woytysiak nor the officials could figure out: How did it end up at the clock tower?
Fortunately, the Bryant Library Local History Collection has the answer.
“According to notes and various articles in our clipping collection, the cannon was taken from the Spanish gunboat, Don Jorge Juan,” Carol Clarke, Bryant’s archivist, told the Roslyn Times. “Which sunk in Nipe Bay, Cuba on July 21, 1898, through the combined efforts of the USS Leyden and the USS Wasp, which was commanded by Navy Lt. Aaron Ward.”
Aaron Ward married Annie Willis, the niece of Ellen Eliza (Cairns) Ward, in whose honor her children commissioned the construction of the clock tower. Clarke said that Aaron was often confused with Ellen’s second husband, Elijah Ward, in old newspaper articles, as the two were extended cousins.
An article published in Newsday on Nov. 2, 1942, titled “Old Wasp Gun to Avenge Loss,” says that the cannon, which also mounted on the USS Wasp, was donated to Aaron Ward at the end of the war.
The article says that after Aaron retired from the Navy in 1908, he, Annie and his “little cannon” moved to the historic Willowmere property in Roslyn Harbor, where the two cultivated award-winning roses. (His obituary in The New York Times says he did not retire until 1912. The “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships” says 1913.)
Aaron stepped out of retirement to command a Red Cross supply ship across the Atlantic Ocean for European relief during World War I in 1914. He died of heart disease at Willowmere in 1918.
Clarke said that the cannon sat in the front yard of Willowmere until he donated it to the village. She could not confirm when he donated it.
“[The 1942 Newsday article] also reports that the cannon was going to be donated as scrap metal to aid the war effort,” she said. “Obviously, this didn’t happen.”
The article says that the cannon would be used to avenge the sinking of an aircraft carrier also named “Wasp.” It also shows the cannon resting at the clock tower.