Naval hero Richard Somers monument dedicated in Somers Point
Last Updated on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 12:10 pm
Written by SUZANNE MARINO
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 05:30 am
SOMERS POINT—It was a history lesson centuries in the making Saturday morning as several hundred people gathered at the newly named Richard Somers Memorial Park on Shore Road for the highly anticipated unveiling of the Richard Somers monument. Laurels were heaped upon Somers for his bravery and service to country above all else even in the face of death.
Descendents of Master Commandant Richard Somers made the trek to Somers Point; some like Dean Somers came from Galloway while others like Paul Mack Somers and his family came in from North Jersey and Dave Somers flew in from Rochester, New York.
A mile long parade preceded the ceremony. As they arrived at the park the monument was draped in a black shroud. After the invocation by Rev. Jeffery Rickards and the AMVETS color guard raised a very special flag that was flown over the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli the Somers Point Fire Department ladder truck lifted the shroud to reveal the monument. Applause and cheers came from the crowd.
Sally Hastings thanked the benefactors for allowing this impressive project to come together as quickly as it did. Large donations from Shore Medical Center, Atlantic Electric, Somers Point Historical Society and the Paul Mack Somers Family and all of the others who stepped up to support the project along with the City of Somers Point and the AMVETS Post 911.
Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser said he was very proud of the project and spoke about his desire to see that the remains of Richard Somers are returned to the U.S. along with his men. A place to bury the remains is just behind the monument.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson a former history teacher declared Oct. 19 as Richard Somers Day throughout the county. Levinson thanked the Somers Point Historical Society and the monument committee members for caring so deeply about the regions heritage and added that our schools would be wise to teach more history of the United States in school
The bust of Richard Somers was done by Luigi Badia, a world renowned bronze sculptor. He initially did the bust for the hamlet of Somers, New York. (Note that Somers, NY is pronounced with a long “O” sound and very different that the South Jersey pronunciation Somers with the short U sound) That town is named specifically after Richard Somers while Somers Point is named after the original Somers settlers that arrived in southern New Jersey long before Richard Somers was born. Representatives from Somers, New York
In 2011 Somers Point and Somers, NY became sister cities and on Saturday morning three representatives traveled to Somers Point to see the unveiling of the monument. Doris Jane Smith of Somers NY said she was happy to be a part of the celebration and impressed with the community support of the historical project.
Author and journalist, Douglas “Chipp” Reid spoke of his latest effort; “Intrepid Sailors” and the role each of the men played on that fateful night in 1804. His book documents the world at the time and the effort the captain and the crew did to elevate the stature of the U.S. Navy. Because of the kidnappings and blockades ships were stacking up, unable to get through the harbor in Tripoli so the plan was hatched for The Intrepid to load up with explosives head into the harbor light the fuse and row back to the Nautilus. We all know what happened, the explosion went off prematurely and killed Somers and everyone onboard.
Local historian, Seth Grossman spoke about Somers and the events that led up to his volunteering for the mission that would claim his life.
Richard Somers is more than just a name from the past of someone born in Somers Point. He was in his time a very well respected sailor who honed his navigation skills while not yet 20 sailing from Philadelphia to New York, explained Grossman.
A member of the fledgling U.S. Navy he served on board the Nautilus and volunteered to lead a dangerous mission on board the Intrepid. The Barbary War was raging in 1804 in the Mediterranean. Corsairs were boarding ships and holding their captain and crew for ransom, and countries would pay. In Europe it was customary to pay the Barbary pirates tribute in order to get the crew back.
So why is the U.S. Navy in Tripoli fighting a war with the likes of Libya and Tunisia? Because as Seth Grossman explained, the world is much different now than it was at the time. Those Muslim controlled countries nearly brought the Roman Empire to its knees and wielded great power and on the high seas they demanded tributes to be paid. England and Spain even with their powerful navies were not able to pass through the Mediterranean without fear of being boarded and held for ransom. “Here comes this small United States Navy. They only had six ships at the time. It was something the Europeans laughed at saying well good luck but it is easier to just pay them their tribute and keep the seas open,” said Grossman. “The battle cry at the time was ‘Millions for defense and no one cent for tribute.’”
The stats on the monument are pretty impressive; The bust weighs about 400 lbs. and is 24” tall and 36” wide. The granite base is drilled and sits several feet in the ground before rising about 4’5” above the street level. The total height is 8 ft and the granite weighs 7,014 lbs for a total weight of 7,500 lbs. “The bust is glued and drilled into place and it will never fall,” Hastings cautioned any fears that the newest addition to the city’s historic inventory.
A light will shine on the monument so that the city's favorite son along with his ship and the names of the crew of the Intrepid will be a place to stop and reflect any time of the day. The Richard Somers Memorial Park and monument is located in front of the Somers Point branch of the Atlantic County Library at Shore Road and New Jersey Avenue.
A commemorative coin was struck for the dedication and some are still available through the Somers Point Historical Society for $15. Chipp Reid’s book is available through Amazon.com.