Yesterday I submitted some research to the World War 1 Memorial Inventory Project about a plaque that stands on the northern wall of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in Bowling Green. The Custom House is a beautiful structure designed by Cass Gilbert at the turn of the twentieth century. Standing at the corners of Broadway and Whitehall, the building is one of the grandest and most distinct structures in Lower Manhattan. Today it houses the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the National Archives. Late in the summer I stumbled upon this monument early on a Sunday morning on my way to Governors Island:
I had to look him up but William H. Todd was a shipbuilder who lived in Brooklyn, NY. That makes sense as his company, Todd Shipyards Corporation, was based Red Hook. The company was formed through various mergers in 1916 and built many of the barges and minesweepers used by the U.S. Navy during the Great War. Oddly Todd died in 1932 when he fell down a flight of stairs at his son’s home.
What caught my attention on the plaque though wasn’t Todd, but the reference to a U.A.M.V. It turns out this was something called the United American War Veterans. I had never heard of this group but as it turns out it was a veterans group that in some ways competed with the American Legion after the First World War. It did not last; the U.A.M.V. seems to have gone defunct in the late 1920s.
If you search old newspapers from the 1920 you see a crazy quilt of Memorial Day commemorations across New York City. The Grand Army of the Republic was shrinking but still very much around. Not to be outdone there were then the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Now in 1919 and into the 20s there were the doughboys. Sometimes these cross-generational groups marched together and sometimes not. What’s more, even after consolidation in 1898 Brooklyn and Manhattan, not to mention the other boroughs, often had their own separate commemorations. There could be even more than one within the boroughs.
We see the remnants of the G.A.R. all around us. And the American Legion is still with us. It is funny though how some of these other groups fell by the wayside, all but forgotten by history.