Kearny Veterans Home Statue Will Be Replaced

By Deborah Fitts

KEARNY, N.J. — A statue of a Union soldier that once graced a Civil War veterans’ home but fell into disrepair and went into storage years ago is the focus of a $32,000 restoration effort aimed at getting him on his feet again.

Spearheading the campaign is Civil War author and historian Bill Styple, a Kearny resident and authority on its namesake, Union Gen. Phil Kearny. More than a decade ago Styple and his fund-raising committee succeeded in a $30,000 project to erect a bronze statue of Kearny in Kearny, and also paid to refurbish a bronze equestrian statue of the general in Arlington National Cemetery.

This time Styple is targeting a statue that once stood outside the New Jersey Home for Disabled Soldiers, a veterans’ home in Kearny that operated between 1888 and 1932.

Thousands of Civil War veterans lived in the home over the decades, according to Styple, and they formed their own Grand Army of the Republic post, named for Union Gen. Phil Sheridan. They erected a monument to grace their 10-acre location.

“It was the standard Union infantry soldier,” said Styple, a soldier in an overcoat “leaning on his musket.” If was a copy of hundreds that were made cheaply, of molded zinc with lead seams, which made it vulnerable to splitting and even shattering.

When the home closed, moving from Kearny to Menlo Park, N.J., most of the buildings were torn down and the land was donated to Kearny to be used for recreation. There are now baseball and football fields where veterans once strolled cobblestone walks. The VFW and other veterans’ groups have headquarters there.

The statue made the move to Menlo Park, but over the years someone stole the musket, and some sort of accident broke the infantryman in pieces. Eventually the statue went into storage at a National Guard armory, where Styple tracked it down. The hands were missing, the arms broken off, and there were “cracks throughout.”

Styple decided that the statue would be a good project for his Gen. Kearny Monument Committee, a six-member group of which he is president. Styple has reactivated the small band, and in early June they were already preparing to sign contracts. They decided against repairing the zinc statue, which would have cost more than $30,000, Styple said. Instead they chose more durable bronze.

“We were worried that in another 100 years there won’t be a group of concerned citizens” looking out for the monument, Styple explained. “So we will make a cast of the statue and it can stand for another 500 years.”

Johnson Atelier in Mercersville, N.J., will make a duplicate casting in bronze. Styple’s own musket, bayonet and scabbard will serve as models for the missing items. An elaborate metal base, long since disappeared, will be replaced with a boulder donated by Valley Quarries near Gettysburg.

The committee has “a little seed money” left over from its earlier projects, enough to pay a one-third down payment up-front. The rest of the money will be raised privately, Styple said, and he plans to reach out to New Jersey reenactment units. The statue will be returned to its original location and there will be landscaping and an interpretive plaque.

Styple said the veterans’ home still has family connections for him.

“My uncles, my father and my mother, when they were kids, would go up on the porch and talk to the veterans and they passed down their stories to me.” One of them was about “Penny Bill,” who had both his eyes shot out at Gettysburg, who would treat the children to candy on “pension day.”

“My kids now play on the ballfields. Less than an inch under the dirt you can still see the cobblestones of the paths,” Styple said. “It would just be a shame to leave that statue where he lies. He’ll eventually fall completely apart.”

Styple notes that the statue “was important to the veterans,” who attended ceremonies in front of it. “It was not a place to honor themselves; it was the place they would honor their fallen comrades.”

Anyone wishing to help in the restoration effort may send a check to the Gen. Kearny Monument Committee, P.O. Box 483, Kearny, NJ 07032.