In the north Jersey town of Bloomingdale, the Pequannock River ambles lazily along the Main St., bending slightly to allow for the tranquility of Sloan Park, near which war memorials sit. The location has been the focal point of annual Memorial Day parades for decades, with school bands, marching veterans groups and kids riding their patriotically decorated bikes along the route. In his presentation on World War I monuments in NJ, Erik Burro, researcher and historian, rekindled the memory of being one of those kids when the picture of the “Hands off” monument popped up on the screen.
“Hands off” is engraved into the statue and it’s unclear if this is an admonition to the viewing public or if it’s somehow related to the World War I veterans being honored here warning the enemy to keep their ‘hands off’ their flag? Of course, in our macabre boyish minds at the time, we thought he was telling someone to cut off the hands of the enemy soldiers! Because you need hands to shoot.
In a fascinating travelogue, as part of the State Library’s series for the 100th Anniversary of World War I on Sep. 27, Burro made clear that there are World War I monuments all over the state, from Atlantic City and Tuckerton to Cresskill and Morristown, some much easier to check out than others. The largest is in Newark (photo below). Called the Wars of America Monument, it has 42 figures, including horses, and tells the story of America through the war years. The horses depicted are in honor of the 8 million steeds that died during the war. Another in Newark has the names of all 125,000 Newark residents who went to war on parchment in its base.The Camp Merritt Monument marks the location of Camp Merritt in Cresskill. The memorial in Atlantic City is unlike any other. Liberty in Distress, located on the southern end, has a rotunda and Lady Liberty is nude and crying with dead bodies around her – presumably with hands still intact.
Burro is a historian and founder of the Pennjerdel House, a regional advocacy for increasing public awareness and appreciation of local history and preservation throughout the tristate area. While most of his business career was spent in corporate communications, he has simultaneously pursued a host of projects involving research, exhibitions, presentations and dramatizations of state, regional and American history.
In the past 40 years, Burro has made a variety of appearances as a guest speaker, master of ceremonies, host for cultural events, reenactor of historic characters both here and abroad, and a creator and participant in exhibitions on history-related topics. He has been involved with local media as well as NPR and the BBC.
During the past year, he independently researched and photographed the major monuments of the Great War here in New Jersey and surrounding states, in support of the American Centennial Commemoration of World War I. He continues to share his findings with the NJ Department of Preservation. His photography is on display at the Rutgers University WWI exhibit in New Brunswick and he recently participated at the NJ WWI Road Show in Toms River. He continues to provide support for the Armed Services Heritage Museum, Rutgers Radio’s Veteran’s Hour, the All Veterans Memorial, Mt. Olive, NJ, and refurbishment efforts for several doughboy monuments.