This article was released during the month of May in recognition of National Peace Officers Memorial Day, which falls on Sunday, May 15th and the National Holiday of Memorial Day, which is May 30th. This article is dedicated to the men and women who serve/served as law enforcement officers across this country; those who do/did “double-duty” in the military; and to those who sacrificed life and limb in the performance of their duties.
From one uniform service to another, police officers of the City of New York have a long and strong history of military service. From the men of the Civil War era that left New York City’s Metropolitan Police Force in order to enlist or volunteer, to today’s missions around the world, there are hundreds of men and women who have served in both capacities, many of whom sacrificed their lives. The department, its unions, and official and unofficial fraternal organizations do an amazing job of never allowing the sacrifices made by their brothers to be forgotten. However, history tells of several significant memorial artifacts that are long forgotten and need to be restored to their original glory and serve as they were originally intended. “Whats the Deal with; the lost tributes of the Police Department of the City of New York (PDNY/NYPD)?
By way of example, this brief article will recount the story of one officer’s service and sacrifice; a man who served the citizens of New York as a Patrolman and his country as a soldier. His story is more common than extraordinary; it exemplifies the unbridled sense of service that embodies the men and women of today’s police forces in New York City, and across this country.
William Edward Sheridan:
According to an article appearing in the News Eagle (Hawley, PA), on May 24, 2013, there are no living relatives to carry on the memory of William Edward Sheridan, who was one of ten children, born to immigrant parents living in Hawley. How is it then, that his name and story will not be forgotten? Let us take a look at Patrolman Sheridan’s experience, service, and lasting legacy.
Patrolman (Ptl.) “Bill” Sheridan was born in 1893 in Hawley, Pennsylvania (PA). In 1911, Bill left Hawley to live in New York City and was appointed to the PDNY on October 22, 1917 (two days after his twenty-fourth birthday). After graduating the police college (as the police academy was named at the time), Ptl. Sheridan wore Shield 6817 and was assigned to the 82nd Precinct (Butler St. Station House), Brooklyn. [Footnote: 1] According to the Annual Report of the PDNY for 1918, he received a “Commendation” “for ‘an act of conspicuous bravery.’ The incident left him with serious injuries, requiring hospitalization,” however no additional details were disclosed.
As a police officer, Ptl. Sheridan was exempt from the Draft, but took a leave of absence from the police department to join the United States Army where, after training and a transfer, he fought in Company B, 79th Division, 313th Infantry of the American Expeditionary Forces. The 313th fought with other divisions in the battle of the Meusse Argonne (Argonne Forest) which history has recorded as one of the most brutal, bloody, and fierce fought in the Great War and resulted in the war’s end.
Army “Corporal ‘Bill’ Sheridan who rallied the remaining men and made a desperate charge against the Hun,” was less than three weeks shy of his twenty-fifth birthday and just over one month from The Armistice, when he was killed by enemy machine-gun fire. Corporal Sheridan’s body was initially buried in France, but was later re-interred in his hometown of Hawley, PA on July 17, 1920.
The Annual Report of the PDNY listed eighteen other members of he department, along with Ptl. Sheridan’s, who died in the service of their country in 1918.
Upon learning of his re-burial, PDNY Lieutenant Martin J. Regan, President of the department’s “Honor Legion,” petitioned Police Commissioner Enright to permit a delegation to attend the re-burial as representatives of the PDNYC. “Big-hearted and patriotic, Enright immediately issued an order granting the request” to allow officers to attend, all of whom were veterans of the same war,” however they were required to “take leave” to attend!
No mention in newspaper archives of Ptl./Corporal Sheridan was found from this point to 1933, when, in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, on May 28, 1933, it was reported that “the Police Department honored its dead who lost their lives on the battlefields of France and on the streets of this city, at Police Headquarters beside the bronze plaques bearing the names of those who died in service.” Taking part in the ceremony was the department’s Honor Legion as well as members of the “William E. Sheridan Police Post of the American Legion.” The same newspaper, on November 5, 1932, reported under the headline “3,000 Policemen And Friends Attend Sheridan Post Ball; Legion Unit Affair Pays Honor to Policeman Who was killed During War” that Sheridan’s namesake Post, number 1059, held its first annual entertainment and dance which was attended by Police Commissioner Mulroney and other officials and dignitaries. Subsequent articles reported the activities of the American Legion Post in the honor of this great man.
On July 15, 1934, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, via live radio broadcast, simultaneously dedicated several new parks across the city. These parks were referred to as “War Memorial Parks” and are easily recognizable throughout the city by the mast-style flagpole, style of construction, and signage.
One park, located at the address 80-100 Grand Street, (between Wyeth & South 1st St.) Brooklyn, was dedicated/named the “William E. Sheridan Playground.” Members of the Sheridan American Legion were present. (Note: A photograph of the lot, prior to construction of the playground, appears below at the end of this article.)
Beginning after the formation of the American Legion Post, through approximately 1941, members of Sheridan Post 1059 made a “pilgrimage” to his gravesite in Hawley, PA and participated in related tributes. In 1945, after the end of World War II, the Sheridan Post led the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City! As of 2013, the Hawley News Eagle reported, that there were eighteen members of the Sheridan Post. Efforts to reach the Post, if they are still active, were unsuccessful. If anyone has any information about the Sheridan police Post of the American Legion, please email the author.
So concludes this short story about just one police officer who answered the call for the service of his nation, lost his life for his country on foreign soil, was buried on foreign soil, returned home, caught the attention of his police comrades who recognized the importance of taking care of a brother after death, and whose memory remains alive vis-à-vis a playground/city park and American Legion Post. Here the story of the “lost” memorials begins.
On June 20, 1922, at Police Headquarters, located at 240 Centre Street, Manhattan, a “World War Memorial Tablet” bearing the names of 827 members of the department who served in the Great War was unveiled in a grand manner. A parade beginning downtown at historic Fraunces Tavern, made its way up Broadway to 240 Centre Street, where a grandiose police headquarters, built in 1909, awaited their arrival. Immediately upon entering headquarters, visitors would see that the large center staircase “leading to the tablet, was heaped with floral pieces sent by various military and police organizations and individuals.”
“Headquarters” was where prisoners were “taken downtown” and Diana S. Waite, in her book, Architects in Albany, says “Hoppin’s Beaux Arts training is evident in ornate town houses for such clients as James Lanier but is apparent more dramatically in the New York City Police Headquarters at 240 Centre Street. This monumental, domed structure, constrained on a triangular lot, was designed ‘to impress both the officer and prisoner with the majesty of the law.’”
“The interior of the building housed both the functional and the imposing. The marble-clad reception area was palatial. In the basement was a gymnasium and a firing range. On the top floor was an observation deck.”
After an invocation, a bugler sounded “Taps.” Military Honor Guards representing all of the branches of service presented The Colors. There were musical tributes, and addresses from dignitaries and military officers. The large tablet, made of bronze, “in the form of a Maltese cross” was set between large stained glass windows which must have cast beautiful hues on it when the sun came through the windows. The Annual Report mentioned that although the “police force of New York City was, in effect, an important arm of the war forces, and its members should be exempt…nevertheless, about 8 per cent of the strength of the force elected to enlist.” Detailed instructions were written into the Annual Report describing dedication ceremony of the “Memorial Tablet.” (Note: The General Order prescribing the ceremony appears below at the end of this article.)
In 1973, the NYPD, as it was now commonly referred to, moved into its new headquarters at One Police Plaza, near City Hall. A well-known author, who has written several excellent books on the history of the NYPD & crime related to this author that there was a departmental parade from the old headquarters to the new one followed by a parade of dump trucks containing glass plate negatives, documents, records and anything else that was there to the East River. The building was left empty and fell into disrepair until 1983 when a developer purchased the building for $4.2 million dollars and turned it into high-end condominiums that sell for millions of dollars each.
“Fidelis Usque Ad Mortem.” “Faithful Unto Death” is the NYPD’s motto and reflects the individual officers devotion to service and sacrifice as well as the fraternal obligation between officers. The department, and fraternal organizations do an excellent job of maintaining their memories, but a few things have “slipped through the cracks” which need to be brought to light.
Adding to a growing list of missing department tributes is the above-described “Memorial Tablet” which bears the name of Ptl. William E. Sheridan, and those of the 826 others. The present whereabouts of the tablet are not known to the author. While the whereabouts of the original tablets remains unknown, the names of officers who were killed in the service to their country appear to be present on a bronze plaque entitled “Armed Forces Memorial” which is located in the lobby of the current Police Headquarters. William E. Sheridan’s name is present on the plaque, which was dedicated in 2007. Unanswered questions remain about the whereabouts of the original, or other tablets, between 1973 and 2007. If anyone has information about the whereabouts, or can add to, or correct, this information, please contact the author. (Note: A recent photograph of the present Armed Forces Memorial tablet appears at the end of this article.)
The second lost tribute is the “Flag of Honor.” The Flag was donated by a citizens’ group to the police department in 1872, for the same reason as the Police Arlington; appreciation. The flag was intended to be carried in the Annual Parades and at the funerals of officers killed in the line of duty. Newspaper articles indicated that the flag was carried in the annual police parade of 1898, and in the 1909 funeral procession of the only officer in the history of the department to be killed in the line of duty overseas – Lieutenant Giuseppe Petrosino, of the “Italian Squad.” Lt. Petrosino was murdered in Palermo, Sicily while gathering intelligence on criminal aliens in New York City. The Flag of Honor appears to have disappeared from mention in newspapers after 1909. A representative of the now dormant “New York City Police Museum” advised that they do not possess the flag.
The department’s official motto “Fidelis Ad Mortem” appeared beneath the words “The Citizens of New York to Their Brave Police.” The motto of the PDNYC dates prior to 1871, when the words were stitched in gold thread into the flag which was made of blue silk with gold tassels.
The third tragic loss concerns the “Police Arlington,” Cypress Hills Cemetery, Queens, NY. The Arlington, is a burial ground, originally purchased with donated funds made by citizens and business groups. It was dedicated in 1871 by the Metropolitan Police Benevolent Burial Association, and was intended to be used to bury officers killed in the line of duty as well as those without family, or the means to be otherwise buried. In fact, officers who, like Ptl. Sheridan, served in the military, and died for their country, are buried at the site.
A large plot, high on a hill, overlooking Manhattan, Long Island, and Brooklyn, the site consisted of a monument with bronze tablets which supported an eight foot bronze statue. The statue was the likeness of Patrolman Lester Lewis, of the old Broadway Squad (who were selected for their height to facilitate in their direction of traffic). The statue stood for ninety-five years atop the monument, but was stolen in 1966! The whereabouts of the statue, and bronze tablets that were affixed to the monument are unknown. (Note: A recent photograph of the present condition of the monument appears below at the end of this article.)
Today, the site is owned by the New York City Police Department Honor Legion, a fraternal organization that is a corporation and not part of the department. The Honor Legion was established in 1912 to honor all of New York City’s Finest who had died in the course of their duty. There are several officers who gave their lives in the performance of their duties, both as police officers and as military servicemen buried at the site. The following was related to the author by a retired police officer who discovered a deed to the site online and then visited the site.
Several years ago, he located a deed to one of the plots online. After purchasing the document, he visited the cemetery and located the plot, which was poorly maintained, overgrown, and in need of maintenance. Along with another retired officer, they cleared overgrowth, leveled and cleaned headstones, and worked with another fraternal organization to organize a memorial ceremony, held during National Law Enforcement Memorial Week, each year in the month of May. After a few years of ceremonies were attended by Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and other ranking members of the NYPD, efforts to restore the site to its original glory by replacing the statue and plaques were made.
A short ceremony is held annually at the site, during National Law Enforcement Memorial Week. If you have read this article this far, you likely would likely enjoy participating in this somber, solemn ceremony.
“Whats the Deal with;” lost tributes of the Police Department of the City of New York (PDNY/NYPD)? It is the responsibility, duty and solemn obligation of anyone connected with the department, fraternal organizations, and members of service, to ensure that the memories of those who gave their lives, and the tributes created in their honor, never be forgotten. There are individuals who have the means and ability to restore, and maintain, these important tributes and they are duty-bound to do so. If the original Memorial Tablets exist, they should be displayed, or there whereabouts identified. The Flag of Honor can, and should, be recreated, and used as intended. The Police Arlington site should be restored to its original glory.
“Eternal Be Their Memory” or in Latin “Eorum Memoria Aeterna Erit.”
FOOTNOTES: [# Above]
1934 – Land dedicated for the Sheridan War Memorial Playground