Weekly Feature

2018-09-13 / Editorial

Something’s missing from Buffalo’s waterfront

Managing Editor

Although somewhat forgotten, Buffalo’s tribute to the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie deserves a better fate.

The life-size statue of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry has stood atop an ornate base at the foot of Porter Avenue since 1916. He is depicted with the wind in his face as he stares intently across the Niagara River toward Canada.

“On Sept. 10, 1813, the U.S. naval squadron on Lake Erie, commanded by 28-year-old Perry, defeated the British squadron off Put-in-Bay, near Sandusky, Ohio. The actions of this nine-vessel squadron were instrumental in defeating the British during the War of 1812 by giving control of Lake Erie to the Americans. As a result, Perry and his relief flagship, the U.S. Brig Niagara, were written into the young history of the United States,” according to Western New York Heritage Magazine.

“The New York State Perry Victory Centennial Committee continued to work for erection of a statue in Buffalo to commemorate the naval hero. It was sculpted by Charles H. Niehaus (who also created the Lincoln statue for the Buffalo Historical Society in 1902) and installed at the Front in 1916.”

He is equally famous for the words on his battle flag, “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” which was a tribute to his dying colleague Capt. James Lawrence of the USS Chesapeake. Perry is also remembered for his message to Gen. William Henry Harrison, which read, in part, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

I can count on two hands the number of friends who are familiar with this Buffalo statue. Unless you’re headed toward the Peace Bridge and Fort Erie, you’ve probably never even seen it.

A change of venue is in order.

The statue of Perry should be prominently displayed at Canalside, possibly adjacent to the Buffalo Naval Park.

Our Canadian friends, some of whom undoubtedly had ancestors who fought on the British side during the War of 1812, recently unveiled a striking monument to two of their own heroes: Chief Tecumseh and Gen. Isaac Brock.

The pair forged a special alliance during the War of 1812, specifically the Battle of Fort Detroit, which started when British and indigenous fighters crossed the river from what is now Windsor’s west-end neighborhood of Sandwich Towne. The monument, which took Canadian sculptor Mark Williams almost three years to complete, overlooks the Detroit River.

Ironically, an image of Tecumseh is part of the dramatic frieze inside the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building, giving him recognition in both lands. Unfortunately, the American image shows the moment that he was shot and killed by a U.S. officer. Not very appropriate.

His likeness also has an important place on the grounds of the

U.S. Naval Academy. A bust of the native chief stands outside Bancroft Hall, a dormitory. Midshipmen offer a left-handed salute in tribute to Tecumseh and toss pennies his way for good luck in exams and athletic contests, according the academy’s website.

It’s time for new traditions along a section of Buffalo’s historic waterfront. Relocating the Perry statue to a venue that is more visible, more accessible and more popular would be an excellent move. There are plans to construct and display a replica of the Seneca Chief, a packet boat that traversed the Erie Canal beginning circa 1825.

Tecumseh’s battle cry has endured equally as long as that of Perry.

“Weshe-catwello Kewshela-waypa!” (Let us be strong in doing right.) (David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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