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Evergreen Cemetery, Portland Maine

Civil War Memorial

Monumental Monday Series

I’ve been to Evergreen Cemetery dozens of times. I stop when I’m in the neighborhood to visit with my Irish Grandmother, Mary Connolly-Gallant-Fisher-Hanscom. Yup, she had three husbands, and outlived them all. Grammy Mary was a welder during WWII, building Liberty Ships for the War effort. Her standard sized generic bronze marker doesn’t seem to do justice to the colorful life she led, but it does blend in nicely, matching all of the others in her particular row, and the entire little section. It’s an odd sensation, channeling all of my memories of her into that one brass nameplate, bearing only her final married name. I feel that she got short-changed, rooked, there was so much more to her story.

I guess that goes for everyone here, every stone.

Evergreen is one of Portland’s hidden jewels, here since the 1850s. With around 50,000 people interred here, there’s a lot to see. Looping roadways, bridges, sculpture, ponds and a chapel represent the style of the original American park/garden/cemeteries of the era. It’s worth taking some time to explore. Gram is buried right up front, within view of Stevens Avenue. I learned to find her in relation to a certain little bench, and an old water spigot, I never had to travel too deep into the cemetery. The bench was recently removed, and I did a double take on my next visit. I hope they never move that spigot.

When I arrived to seek out this Civil War memorial, I was quite pleased to discover the ‘back 40’, and I might have taken an extra lap around the perimeter. Huge headstones and monuments, representing larger than life characters, players, movers and shakers. I make a mental note to come back and explore further when I have more time, but I know that list has grown beyond realistic limits. Still, I will chalk it up on the board. Somewhere. Anywhere. Under ‘Pipe Dreams’ perhaps.

Driving at a snail’s pace, taking it all in. I spotted the monument from a ways off, there’s just something about a Soldier. A neatly spaced fence of headstones forms a line behind him, they have his back. I see the bronze star flag holders of the Veterans, aged to a wonderful shade of greenish gray. Showing the age of many harsh seasons. As I approach I see the cannons. I’m just an overgrown boy at heart, and boys love guns. Big guns, my oh my, they look to be genuine Civil War relics. The Real Deal. At the Soldier’s back is a stationary mount gun, probably bolted to a big slab of granite at a local fort.

At his front was a true fieldpiece. The cannon you envision in imaginary Civil War battles. I can’t be the only one. It’s got a barrel bore about the size of a grapefruit, a big pink one from Florida. The heavy tailpiece has a small wheel trailing behind, while two huge wooden spoked wheels support the main carriage.

Wait a minute, I said to myself, that one doesn’t have wheels. It’s up on blocks, like some ghetto stolen car from the movies. The wheels are gone. Myself replied. What in the Blasphemous Tarnation?!?

My first response was dark, which is fairly normal for me. I’ve seen some stuff. This is the Big City around these parts. Part of Big City life is dealing with Big City crime. Slightly higher rates than the rural life I grew up in, but I suspect that the ratio is harder to predict these days. The wheels were definitely gone. Bobby Dylan spelled it out for me. “The pump don’t work ‘cause the vandals took the handles.”

My brakes squeaked as I crept to a stop, and I felt my cheeks blush. That awful nails-on-the-chalkboard chirp. Nobody living was nearby, yet I felt embarrassed, that I should apologize to the Souls within earshot. Sorry. I’ll get those fixed. Very sorry. I’m not sure just how that stuff plays out. I hopped out in a hurry, I would CSI the missing cannon wheels up close. My mind had already started to doubt the theft theory. The facts would further whittle.

The little anti-vandal straps that had locked the missing wheels down were unbolted, and flopping. My brain conjured up a generic thief, graveyard vandal sort. Vandal had the lock chocks all off, the big girl was freewheeling. I didn’t see this as a point where Vandal might shore up some blocking underneath, and begin the act of wheel removal. Clean, surgical wheel removal, not broken spokes and violence.

My Vandal took an entirely different approach. As soon as the wheels were free, his three drunk buddies joined in, and wheeled that old cannon right down the path, all the way to the front gates. They’d be snorting and humming in poorly muffled laughter as they rolled her up into the back of an enclosed trailer. Vandals always seem to have extra enclosed trailers close at hand. Random fact.

No, my Vandal story won’t hold water. It looks like a maintenance issue. The block support frame would keep her safe while the wheels went off to be repaired somewhere. The wooden rims and spokes had surely caved to Mother Nature and Father Time. Both heartless, by the way. No sympathy.

I hope that it’s a recent action, maybe some old-time well rounded woodsmith is fixing them as we speak. A job for a real specialist these days, there’s a lot more than just measuring and cutting involved. A whole lot more. Back in The Day, every other man you met was competent to respoke a wheel. They had to be. The ones that couldn’t were probably lying, shirking the job. It was necessity.

Let’s hope those wheels will be back in a flash, all brand new and shiny. It would sure be more impressive than this remaining skeleton, still a cannon, but definitely missing something. Off kilter. This is a Monument, after all. I’m a bit of a realist, and my dark side always speaks up first. I picture a dank garage bay somewhere, a glorified maintenance shed. There’s ghosts and memories of an actual workshop. A crew of solid guys that showed up every day, and between them could fix about anything. Fixed right, not just patched up. The stove burned in the corner when the weather cooled off, and a Mr. Coffee stayed on all day, smelling like the darkest burnt French Roast by the end of the shift.

Those days are long gone now, they hauled the tools and benches out of that shop ages ago. Storage now, where they park the mowers and snowblowers. Rakes and shovels hang on the walls, covered with thick dust. Somebody comes by every couple weeks. I picture those old broken wheels leaning against the wall somewhere, lost in the shuffle. Victims of fate and circumstance. Probably the hardware is right there with them, the axle nuts and washers, everything. In a coffee can, or maybe in a ziplock bag, wire-tied to one of the only good spokes. They had good intentions. Maybe they just couldn’t find anyone with the talent to handle the job. Maybe those old-timers are all gone. I doubt it. I know a guy that could pull it off.

If I only had the money, this is exactly the kind of thing I would spend it on. I would love to buy some new wheels for this beautiful monument. I reach into my money pocket. Huh. Must have left my cash in my other pants. I check my secret stash spot in my wallet. I make a sucking sound, with an upside-down toothy grin. Not today. I wish I had infinite money, some endless trust fund that kept my pockets full.

It would have to be endless, because any finite amount would have been piddled away by now, no matter how vast the fortune. Human Nature. It really does burn holes in your pockets. Mine, anyway.

Let’s talk about some guys who had a little money to spend, back in the late 1800s. The Cleaves brothers, Henry B. and Nathan. Both practiced law in Portland, made successful investments, and had notable political careers. Judge Nathan was once President of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, among many other seats and interests. He was that kind of guy. Involved.

Little brother Henry Bradstreet Cleaves was 22 when he signed up with the 23rd Maine Infantry. After his three year stint he reenlisted with the 30th Maine for the remainder of the Civil War, coming home a 1st Lieutenant. He studied law and eventually partnered in a firm with Nathan. He served in the Maine House, and as Maine’s Attorney General. Later he served two terms as a popular Maine Governor.

I must say, I jumped to a conclusion, assuming that the Cleaves boys must be descendants of my ancestor and Portland founder George Cleeve, spelling didn’t mean much back then. He’s got a couple Portland monuments of his own. It seemed such a fitting connection, all focused in this great historic City.

Genealogy Rule #3: Never Assume. Prove.

As it turns out, they’re different Cleaves. Henry and Nathan were very generous with their means, they paid the tab for this Evergreen Civil War Monument. Dedicated in 1895.





The whole shebang. All that and a bag of chips. The cannons were all part of the deal, thanks to the brothers Cleaves. Imagine being in a position to buy monuments. To donate monuments.

They’re both buried here at Evergreen, in a fancy tomb nearby. Good, solid men.

Like you read about.

They left a similar statue in their hometown of Bridgton, Maine, but I suppose That’s a story for a different Monumental Monday. Or Wednesday. As always, thanks for reading this stuff. I appreciate it.

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