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.
The long, rich history of policing in what is today’s City of New York, dates to the era of New Amsterdam (Dutch occupation) and the City of New York (British & Colonial occupation). The New York City Police Department dates to 1845. The history of policing is fascinating and can be summed up in three words: good, bad, and ugly. This article will focus on the good, and highlights three historical artifacts that are now long lost and missing.
The first missing historical artifact is the “Flag of Honor,” a tribute given as a gift by the citizens of New York as a physical representation of the bravery and valor exhibited by the department during the Draft Riots of 1863 and the Orange Riots of 1871. This flag was in recognition of what the citizens viewed as the first professional police department in the city.
The second missing tribute is the World War I Memorial Tablet, which bore the names of the police officers who served their country in the American Expedition Force in Europe, and gave their lives for their Flag and county.
The third missing tribute is the statue that once stood at the Police Arlington burial grounds. The statue and burial grounds were presented in 1872 by the citizens of new York as a gift to the Metropolitan Police Burial Association, Inc., and are collectively referred to as the Police Arlington. The burial grounds were intended to be used to bury officers killed in the line of duty, as well as officers without family, or the means to be otherwise buried. Today the grounds (burial plot) remain in existence, and are now owned by the Police Honor Legion, which has done little with the site.
What has come of these tributes? No one seems to know.
The last mention of the Flag of Honor was in the newspapers, in 1909. The large, bronze tablet appears to have gone missing when the police department moved from 240 Centre St. to One Police Plaza in 1973. The eight foot, brass statue of a policeman was stolen from the gravesite in the Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn/Queens in 1966.
The Flag of Honor:
The significance of the Flag of Honor is that it contains the genesis of he department’s official motto “Fidelis Ad Mortem.” These words appeared beneath the words “The Citizens of New York to Their Brave Police.” The motto of the PDNYC dates prior to 1871 in literary sources, but was adopted by the department when the words were stitched in gold thread on the Flag of Honor.
The “Flag of Honor” was donated by a citizens group to the police department in 1872, for the same reason as the Police Arlington: appreciation. The cost was $1,000. Seven hundred and fifty dollars was raised by subscription (donations) by the public. The flag was 6′ 6″ long by 6′ in width, and was made of blue silk with gold tassels. According to an article in the New York Times, the flag was “pronounced, by competent judges, the finest piece of work of the kind in America.” The flag took one woman eight months to embroider the front, and rear (which contained the NYC Seal).
The citizens committee decided to place lithographed copies in each station-house. A lithograph image of the words on the obverse of the Flag of Honor, using tin as a medium exists in the author’s collection. This object is believed to be the aforementioned lithographed copy of the flag that was placed in each station-house.
The flag was presented with great fanfare to the police department on the occasion of the annual police parade In October 1872, and 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 defunct “New York City Police Museum” advised that they do not possess the flag.
The World War I Police Memorial Tablet:
On June 20, 1922, at Police Headquarters, located at 240 Centre Street, in Manhattan, a “World War Memorial Tablet” bearing the names of 827 members of the department who served in the Great War was unveiled. 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.”
Circa 1910 – Police Headquarters, 240 Centre St., NYC
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.
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 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 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. This information has been corroborated by eyewitnesses who were police officers at the time. 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.
While the whereabouts of the original tablet 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.
(Note: A recent photograph of the present Armed Forces Memorial tablet appears at the end of this article.)
1920 Group Photo – World War Memorial Tablet Dedication
The Police Arlington – Cypress Hills, Queens, NY:
The third tragic loss of an important memorial 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 to 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. Officers who served in the military, and died for their country, are buried at the site, along with officers who were either indigent, or had no immediate family.
The burial grounds is a large burial plot, high on a hill, overlooking Manhattan, Long Island, and Brooklyn. The site consisted of a monument (stone pediment) with bronze tablets affixed to each side. The pediment supported an eight foot bronze statue which bore the likeness of Patrolman Lester Lewis, of the old Broadway Squad. 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 received Honorable Mention and/or medals for bravery and valor. 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. While it is the prerogative of the owners of the burial site (the Honor Legion) to do with the site as they wish, it is notable that little has been done by the Honor Legion to maintain the site. Additionally, contrary to the original intent by the citizens of New York, some members of the Honor Legion hold deeds to be buried on 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 purchased a deed to one of the plots via an online auction website. After receiving the document, he visited the cemetery and located the burial grounds, 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 the Traffic Squad Benevolent Association, Inc. (TSBA) a fraternal organization associated with the police department to organize a memorial ceremony, held annually during National Law Enforcement Memorial Week. The ceremonies were held in an effort to bring attention to the important, neglected memorial site.
After a few years of TSBA-sponsored ceremonies Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and other ranking members of the NYPD attended. The Honor Legion then, abruptly, notified the TSBA to cease holding ceremonies. After a few years, the Honor Legion began holding occasional annual ceremonies and in an effort to restore the site to its original glory placed – vinyl plaques on the pediment.
In approximately 2012, an individual known well by the author contracted a sculptor to have a mock-up of the original statue made in an effort to convince the Honor Legion to raise the funds (approximately $100,000 at the time) to have a new statue re-created in a polymer. The individual related to the author that the Honor Legion showed no interest in doing so. One of two mock-ups (statues standing about 16″) is on exhibit at the Police Academy in Queens.
In recent years, short ceremonies have been held annually at the site, during National Law Enforcement Memorial Week.
It is the responsibility, duty, and solemn obligation of anyone connected with the department, its fraternal organizations, and line associations, to ensure that the memories of those who gave their lives, and the tributes created in their honor, never be forgotten.
There are individuals and organizations who have the financial means and ability to restore and maintain these important tributes, and they are duty-bound to do so.
The Flag of Honor can, and should, be recreated, and used as intended. If the original Memorial Tablets exists, it is up to the police department to search the many warehouses used by the department in an effort to locate the same, which should be properly and reverently displayed. The Police Arlington site should be restored to its original glory and used for its originally intended purpose. The responsibility to do so lies squarely with the owner, the Honor Legion, which should live up to its name.
“Eternal Be Their Memory” or in Latin “Eorum Memoria Aeterna Erit.”
If anyone has information about the whereabouts of the Flag of Honor, World War I Memorial Tablet, or the Police Arlington’s statue, please contact the author.
Efforts prior to this article deserve mention!
Above: Dec. 17, 2005 – Thee Rant Blog Site
Below: June 2010 Edition
In 2016, the author commissioned a challenge coin in an effort to bring awareness to the cause of restoring the Flag of Honor and Police Arlington Statue.
On May 17, 2019, the NYPD held a commemoration remembering the 100th Anniversary of the Department Flag. Featured in the handout booklet was a brief story of the Flag of Honor.
Note: Updated 2019 – to include NYPD Booklet.
Note: Updated 2023- Removed detailed information on Ptl. William E. Sheridan, the topic of a later article. Added image of Challenge Coin.