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Vets Seek Maryland 400 Memorial, Not Pre-K, Next to American Legion Post

By Leslie Albrecht | November 10, 2015 4:03pm
 Some believe Ninth Street and Third Avenue is the final resting spot for the Maryland 400.
Vets Say Pre-K Doesn't Belong Next to American Legion Post
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GOWANUS — Korean War veteran Pete De Angelis is looking forward to seeing his fellow American Legion members this Veterans Day, but his mind is on war heroes who died in the neighborhood 239 years ago.

De Angelis, a post adjutant and past commander, says he and other Legion members are worried about the city's plan to build a pre-k facility next door to the Michael A. Rawley, Jr. American Legion Post #1636 on Ninth Street and Third Avenue.

Some believe the empty lot where the city wants to build the school is the burial ground for the Maryland 400, the Revolutionary War soldiers who held off British forces so George Washington could retreat — and live to fight another day — during the pivotal Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776.

De Angelis, 83, has been working for years with local historian Bob Furman to get the property next to the American Legion Post turned into a commemorative park for the Maryland troops.

"We'd be very honored to have a memorial park there," De Angelis said. "We have to remember them. They were vets like us — just a different type of war."

He added, "If it wasn't for that war, we wouldn’t be here today. They were heroes."

The possibility that the pre-k could disturb hallowed ground isn't the only objection Legion members have — the post serves alcohol to adults seven days a week and may not be an ideal neighbor for a bunch of 4-year-olds, De Angelis said.

Not all Legion members are against the pre-k. Bartender Ann Perchman, a U.S. Navy vet, said disturbing the possible burial spot for the Maryland 400 didn't bother her too much.

"Yes, it's sacred ground and we should always remember them, but I don't think we should not build because of that," Perchman said of the proposed school. "As long as they teach American History. They don't do that too much any more." 

The Maryland 400's contribution to American history isn't in doubt, but their final resting spot is.

Centuries of development have shifted the battle sites so much that finding the regiment's remains is a near impossible task at this point, said Kim Maier, executive director of the Old Stone House, the Park Slope history center that educates the public about the battle and colonial times.

Revolutionary War artifacts turn up from time to time — a family on Eighth Street and Third Avenue found a nine-pound cannon ball in their backyard about five years ago, Maier said.

However archeologists investigated the property next to the American Legion post in 2012, and soil borings showed that the site didn't contain human remains, Maeir said.

"We don't feel that it's any more of a possible burial site than anywhere else in the neighborhood,” Maier said. "It's more likely that the battle led to soldiers being buried where they fell. It's more likely that they’re under Staples [on Fourth Avenue]."

The mystery could be resolved if the city moves forward with its pre-k facility plan.

The state's Historic Preservation Office is required by law to review School Construction Authority plans, and that could trigger archeological studies, said spokesman Randy Simons of New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

In addition, the city's Department of Education will conduct an "appropriate investigation" if it buys the site, said DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield, who noted that preserving local history is "critical."

Furman, the historian spearheading the memorial park for the Maryland 400, said Monday that even if no bones turn up on the site, he still wants a park there, not a pre-k.

Public green space is scarce in the immediate area, and new residential development is flourishing on nearby Fourth Avenue, Furman said. And honoring the Maryland 400 is his top priority.

“I got involved with this because I was shocked that this huge important event had taken place in Brooklyn and it was hardly known and hardly commemorated,” Furman said. “The whole idea that there were several hundred Maryland soldiers who saved the country and no one commemorates them is pretty appalling."