This history is dedicated to my brother and sister officers - heroes all.
In May of 1887, the Trustees of Bayview Cemetery on Garfield Avenue presented burial plots 42 and 44 to officials of the Jersey City Police Department, comprising about 292 sq. ft. to each plot. They were to used solely for the burial of deceased members who had died without relatives, or the means to be buried elsewhere.
At the time the gift was given, each member of the Department was assessed eight cents a year just before Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) for the upkeep of the plots. The assessment was discontinued about 1903. As the years went by, the plot was sadly neglected. Many policemen were unaware of its existence. On Sunday, July 7, 1935, John R. Ryan, Commander of the VFW General Joseph Wheeler Post #62 presented a Flag Pole Marker to the Police Department to honor the deceased members buried in this plot. At that time, Chief Daniel Casey proposed to erect a monument at this location, in commemoration of those already buried or would be interred there. He declared that the monument would be dedicated on Memorial Day 1936. In order to accomplish this, he made the following order to his Department: Patrolmen, Detectives, Sergeants and Lieutenants would be assessed ten cents each month and Captains, Inspectors, Deputy Chiefs and Chief would be assessed twenty-five cents each month beginning August 1, 1935. These monies were collected on the 15th of the month by the Captains of the Precincts and Bureaus and turned over to Captain Frederick Drewen of the 5th Precinct who served as treasurer of the memorial committee. On April 9, 1936, Chief Casey called for the discontinuation of the assessment and praised all the members of the Department and Captain Walter Ciecciuch and the officers of the Police Mutual Aid Society for their financial help.
The man chosen to create a fitting tribute to Jersey City’s finest was Archimedes Giacomantonio. Born in Jersey City in 1905 two blocks from city hall, he attended Dickinson High School. He took his initial art training at the da Vinci Art School in New York. Giacomantonio studied five years in Italy at the Royal Academy in Rome. He made busts and statuettes of many prominent people of the era including Il Duce, Benito Mussolini. The bronze statuette of Abraham Lincoln ( The railsplitter) in the Lincoln High School Lobby is one of his works of art completed when he was only 18 years old. Another shining example of his is the statue of Christopher Columbus in Journal Square. President Harry Truman commissioned him to do a statuette of Woodrow Wilson for the Truman Library in Missouri. A bust of President Dwight D. Eisenhower by the artist can be viewed at West Point. Giacomantonio had a studio at 194 Fairview Avenue. He was 30 years old when he took on this heroic undertaking for the Police Department. He requested that a policeman with a sturdy physique be selected as the model. There was only one man to fill the bill - Sergeant Harry Morse who was over 6 feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds - all muscle. Morse was a superior athlete adept in wrestling and boxing and an instructor in the Academy of Physical Training of the Department of Public Safety. Morse was to be the model for the body of the 8 1/2 foot tall statue and Patrolman Arthur J. Morrissey was chosen for the head of the statue. Morse posed for 7 weeks for more than 2 hours a day, while Giacomantonio sketched and then made a model out of clay for approval. The model was accepted and then it was off to the Cellini Bronze works in Brooklyn, NY for the final masterpiece.
(Harry Morse retired July 16, 1961 as a Lieutenant with 36 years of service)
(Arthur Morrissey died at age 61 with 33 years of service August 12, 1959)
Sunday, May 25, 1936 was chosen as the day to unveil this tribute to the Jersey City Police Department. A granite cube 4 feet on each side was selected as the base and the names of 5 patrolmen buried there were inscribed on it. Their names are - Peter Reen, John Blanchard, Edward Moore, David W. Garvin, Vincent Strother - all buried between 1892 and 1935 - since then three more were added - George A. Mauer Sr., William Whalen and George H. Truchess. The inscription on the base reads "IN MEMORY OF THE DECEASED MEMBERS OF THE JERSEY CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT ERECTED BY THEIR COMRADES 1936 FRANK HAGUE MAYOR THOMAS J. WOLFE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC SAFETY" The granite block still stands there, but more about that later.
The unveiling was set for 3:00 P.M. sharp. The line of march started at Bergen Square north to Veteran’s Square (Journal Square), south on the Boulevard to Communipaw Avenue, east on Communipaw to Bergen Avenue, south on Bergen to Van Nostrand Ave., east on Van Nostrand to Ocean Avenue, south on Ocean to the cemetery. Twenty mounted patrolmen with Department colors and flags were to head the parade. In addition were the firing squad, the police band, 113th Infantry, 3rd Battalion, 104th Engineers, 2nd Battalion, 7th Battalion Naval Reserves, Junior Naval Reserves, Marine Corps reserves, 4 platoons of Police and 4 platoons of Firemen. A veteran’s division was made up of the United Spanish Veterans, General Joseph Wheeler Post, American Legion, Catholic War Veterans, Polish War Veterans, Disabled American War Veterans, General Pulaski Post #9, Veterans of Foreign wars, Jewish War Veterans and German War Veterans. The parade stepped off at 1:30 P.M. sharp. More than 2000 spectators waited at the cemetery in anticipation of the unveiling. The firing squad released a salvo as the crowd cheered the statue’s majestic look. They all became silent and stood at attention as "Taps" was played. Mayor Hague lauded the Police Department "Jersey City has one of the most efficient and moral police departments in the country"
The location of the plot is set back from Garfield Avenue, out of sight of this busy roadway. Sometime during the night of May 31 or early morning of June 1, 1961, thieves armed with hacksaws cut the bronze statue off at the ankles and hauled it away. They had sawed their way through a locked gate to gain access to the unguarded cemetery. The 1500 pound statue was gone as the cemetery secretary discovered at 8:00 A.M. The statue was valued at $17,000 in 1936 and now it was probably headed for a scrap yard for the value of the weight of the bronze, maybe 50 or 100 dollars. Police spotted a heavily laden car being driven by a youth near the cemetery the next day. They followed it to Bayonne and the Hook Road. A 17 year old from Woodlawn Avenue was arrested and the statue was found in pieces. The head was buried in tar and the torso was buried in the weeds near the Standard Oil tanks on Hook Road in Bayonne. The legs were found in the youth’s home. Archimedes Giacomantonio was called upon again after 25 years to repair the massive damage to the statue. According to reports, his fee was ‘next to nothing’. It was welded back together and again placed back upon its pedestal in Bayview Cemetery. There it remained untouched for 14 years.
The Second Theft
Some time during the night of March 10, 1975, thieves again attacked the cemetery and the statue. Again it was cut off at the ankles, carted off and cut up. As with the first theft the only remaining remnants were the bronze shoes firmly embedded into the base. 5th Precinct detectives immediately scoured the local scrap yards and found the legs in one on Garfield Ave. The detectives, a pair of Jacks, Gleeson and Cassidy, discovered the legs on a weighing scale, and arrested the owner of the scrap yard for possession of stolen goods. The owner promptly gave up the name and address of the thief who lived on Armstrong Avenue. They found the torso in the living room of the thief, resting on a table minus its head. The head was found nearby in a garbage can. The legs had been scrapped for a grand total of $30.00. Again, Archimedes Giacomantonio now 70 years old, responded to the call and volunteered to restore the statue. "It was terribly damaged, the head was cut off, the body was in two pieces and the legs were separated and it was terribly smashed and cut by sledges and hacksaws" he said. As age had taken its toll on Giacomantonio, he requested that someone assist him in reconstructing the statue who had expertise in welding and brazing. Kelly Hoskins, whose welding shop was located on Prescott St. immediately volunteered. Thus started a year long effort described by both of them as "a labor of love." Every Wednesday Giacomantonio, who had moved to Sparta, NJ traveled from his home to Hoskins shop. There, bent over the battered statue, the duo hammered, welded and buffed and during the course of restoration became friends. Hoskins donated more that $500 in new bronze for the project. In order to discourage any future hacksaw attempts, hardened steel shafts one inch thick were placed in the leg areas. It became a certainty that the statue would not be placed back in an unguarded cemetery. The restoration complete, the statue was kept stored in Hoskins shop until an appropriate place was decided upon. Councilman Morris Pesin who was nicknamed "Father of Liberty State Park", arranged with the city fathers to erect a fitting pedestal at the intersection of Montgomery St. and Henderson St. It would be placed on the grass median.
On Tuesday, August 17, 1976 the statue would be unveiled in its new location in a site that was constantly in the public eye, behind City Hall. At 1300 hours the ceremonies began. The POBA presented Mr. Pesin with an award of appreciation, he remarked "This statue may be behind city Hall, but City Hall is behind this Police Department 100 percent." Present were Nettie Morrissey, the widow of Arthur Morrissey and Sergeant Walter Morse, son of the late Lt. Harry Morse. Kelly Hoskins was called upon to unveil the statue while the master, Archimedes Giacomantonio looked on. The FOP was cited for its greatly appreciated financial help during the restoration. The plaque on the base reads "IN MEMORY OF THE DECEASED MEMBERS OF THE JERSEY CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT."
In the intervening years, Police Week which is in the middle of May every year, was celebrated on awards day at either the Path Plaza in Journal Square or Liberty State Park. The silent statue was largely ignored except for an occasional wreath without fanfare. The shrubbery became overgrown and was starting to surround the memorial. Detective Frank Sprague became engrossed in the Department’s history and officers who died in the line of duty. Frank did all the research on his own time at the Jersey City Public Library’s microfilm archives. His completed list was staggering and eye opening. Over thirty officers had died in the line of duty and there was no permanent monument for them or their deeds. With all due respect, I requested through channels, the possibility of moving the statue again out of the busy setting it was in which defied a gathering of more than five people. I suggested that it be placed in front of city hall to the right of the soldier’s and sailor’s monument, where it would enable a large gathering to pay their respects easily with no interruption of traffic. The Department hierarchy agreed. I spoke with a stonecutter who would create a new base with all the names of the officers who died in the line of duty. The cost would be minimal. The request went to the city architect who immediately nixed the request. The administration in late 1993 was not receptive to this idea. I still believe that a permanent memorial should be made to these fallen officers, true heroes. There are also many heroes who were involved at the inception of the statue, through the horrible vandalism, the reconstruction and its re-dedication. I salute them all.
P.S. The granite block from 1936 still stands in Bayview Cemetery in tribute to the deceased members inscribed thereon. Studs protruding through the top of the memorial are mute testimony to the odyssey of the statue which once proudly stood there.
Richard W. Kist
This story was written by Lieutenant Richard W. Kist who has a burning desire to preserve the history of this department. Lieutenant Kist is one of the finest bosses our department has ever seen always available to guide the youngsters.
As a tribute to Richie maybe we should start a campaign to have the proper memorial that he envisioned in front of City Hall.
After wworking with Richie on several research projects I can tell you that he deserves our deepest respect for his dedcation to the memory of this department.