Anyone who’s watched Antiques Roadshow is familiar with the importance of "provenance." Strictly defined, the word means the origin, derivation, or source. Provenance adds value if the object belonged to an important person or was tied in some way to an important event.
Every item has its own history, whether it’s the charm bracelet your grandmother began for you that becomes a record of your interests, or the vase you bought at a garage sale.
Because of its provenance, one of the items currently in the care of the Peoria Historical Society recently received attention, as well as a financial contribution, for its continuing care and restoration. The item, a 1,275-pound bronze cannon, traveled the world before coming to the front lawn of the Flanagan House Museum on Peoria’s East Bluff.
Cast on December 3, 1776, in Seville, Spain, the cannon spent more than 100 years within the walls of Old Manila in the Philippines. During the Spanish-American War, Brigadier General Lloyd Wheaton claimed the Spanish cannon as war booty and sent it back to Peoria, his boyhood hometown. On November 3, 1899, he presented it to Mayor Henry Lynch as a gift to the City of Peoria.
The inscription, although faint today, still carries Wheaton’s name and his presentation to the City of Peoria, with the notation "Manila 1899." The City of Peoria kept it on display near City Hall and apparently fired it on special occasions.
In 1902, 10 Peoria aldermen scoured and polished the old gun until it gleamed a brilliant homecoming to Peoria’s famous general, according to a newspaper report. Wheaton had come back to Peoria on July 11, four days prior to his retirement from the Army. He was met, reports tell, by a procession and brass band at the train, and escorted to the National Hotel, where he renewed acquaintances with old friends. He later went to the Court House for a public reception and to be made a member of the George A. Wilson Circle of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Fitting tribute, indeed, for the man reputedly the first Peorian to enlist for the Civil War, a recipient of the Congres-sional Medal of Honor, and the first Peorian ever to become a general in the U.S. Army. Wheaton, though born in Pennfield, Mich., in 1838, lived much of his early life in Illinois. He died in Chicago September 17, 1918.
Although wounded at Shiloh as a captain in April 1862, Wheaton went on to Congressional recognition for heroism as a Lt. Colonel with the 8th Illinois Infantry at Fort Blakely, Ala., in April 1865. After the Civil War, he headed a frontier fort in the Dakota Territory. A book, Those Brawling Boys in Blue, recounts this period and includes him.
The Spanish-American War officially ended April 11, 1899, but the Filipinos continued to struggle for independence against the Americans. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, Gen. Henry Lawton, and Gen. Wheaton led the American efforts after Adm. Dewey routed the Spanish. Wheaton eventually became the commanding general of the Department of the Northern Philippines. In 1900, he starred in several silent movies documenting his role during what had become known as "The Philippine Insurrection." Hostilities officially ended July 4, 1902, and he retired.
In 1908, the city gave the cannon to the Peoria Park District. The cannon, on a wheeled gun carriage, was relocated to the west end of Columbia Terrace in Bradley Park, later the location for a statue of Christopher Columbus. Although spared from the scrap drives of WWII, the cannon nevertheless disappeared into storage by the 1950s. Evidently stolen in the 1960s, it emerged for sale in the early 1970s and was purchased by a farmer 53 miles north of Peoria.
In 1980, the inscription identified the cannon as ill-gotten goods when a teacher observed it being fired in Rockford at a Colonial Days celebration and contacted police.
Returned to Peoria and rededicated in 1981, today the cannon is secured, on permanent loan, on a stainless steel base fabricated by A. Lucas & Sons and mounted on concrete donated by V. Jobst & Sons, both long-time Peoria businesses. A nearby historic marker placed by the Peoria Chapter of the DAR tells its history. The Filipino American Historical Society of Springfield and the Filipino American Society of Central Illinois recently presented checks totaling $1,100 for continued preservation of this treasured artifact, an enduring legacy of the Philippines that’s remained strong despite adversity. AA!