Who owns the Civil War cannons?


RICHMOND (AP) – Two Civil War cannons that sit in front of an American Legion post in Richmond have ignited a dispute over who owns the antiques and where they belong.

Todd Violette, an antiques dealer who spotted the 12-pound Napoleon cannons after making a wrong turn on a back road, says the cannons are a part of history that belong to the public and need to be cared for.

The Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center, from where the cannons were removed decades ago, says it is the rightful owner.

Leaders of the Emerson-Lane American Legion Post 132 say the cannons aren’t going anywhere. The veterans hospital, they say, gave up ownership long ago.

Violette, who owns Violette Antiques and Collectibles Inc. in Winslow, said the cannons were two of only 370 that were manufactured by Boston-based Henry N. Hooper & Co. for use by the Union Army in the Civil War.

They were cast in 1863 and could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.

After spotting the cannons two years ago, Violette started a one-man campaign to have them put in a safe place.

He said they should not be sitting outside the Legion hall deteriorating from exposure to the elements.

“They obviously don’t know how to take care of these,” he said. “(The cannons) need to be in the Maine State Museum.”

Larry Bond Jr. said he took the cannons from the Togus veterans hospital to the Richmond post about 35 years ago. Bond, an 80-year-old Legion member and an Army veteran, said a Togus employee who was also a Legionnaire told him to come pick up the cannons, which he did in his dump truck.

They’ve been at the Legion post ever since.

After Violette saw the antiques, he began a quest to have them moved elsewhere. He contacted the National Park Service, a state representative and Togus police, and wrote to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

Members of the Legion post have also sent letters to Maine’s congressional delegation in an attempt to keep the cannons they see as being rightfully theirs. The cannons have become such a part of the post that members have threatened to chain themselves to weapons if anyone attempts to remove them.

Complicating the matter is that Togus wants the cannons back. Hospital spokesman Jim Doherty released a statement last week saying the facility would be contacting the American Legion post requesting the return of the cannons.

That’s not going to happen, according to Lester Dearborn, the commander of the Legion post and an employee at Togus. He said Togus lost ownership of the cannons decades ago and is only now showing interest because of their possible resale value.

“They weren’t doing it because they wanted to do something for the veterans,” Dearborn said. “They were wanting them because they were interested in what they could get for them.”

But Violette said the cannons need to be sheltered to preserve them.

“These cannons are not being taken care of; they’re being destroyed by the elements,” he said. “They need to be put in a museum before they are stolen or end up in someone’s private collection.”

Information from: Morning Sentinel, http://www.onlinesentinel.com/

AP-ES-01-23-07 1154EST