When Pershing Field Memorial Park was opened in 1922 and dedicated in 1923, it was intended to commemorate the soldiers from Jersey City lost during World War I. Today the park also includes memorials to members of the armed forces in America's subsequent military engagements.
The park is named for World War I hero General John J. Pershing, also befitting its association with the previous use of the grounds as a World War I military training ground. The prominent eight-foot bronze painted-gold memorial statue known as "America Triumphant" by James Novelli (1885-1940) was unveiled at the opening on July 4, 1922. The figure dons a cloak of stars and stripes, her head a wreath of glory, and folded arms a sword and shield.
Novelli was born In Italy, emigrated to the United States with his family, but returned to Italy for his art education. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Rome in 1908, Novelli found gainful employment with the demand of war monuments after World War I. In a web site essay, Josephine Murphy of City University of New York and author of Novelli, A Forgotten Sculptor describes the opening event for the park: "The dedication [sic] ceremony took place on Independence Day, and a crowd watched in awe as an airplane circled the crowd for two hours and at timed intervals dropped a rose to the ground until 147, each one representing one man who died [from Jersey City], had made an immense bouquet at the foot of the monument" (Murphy). Although invited, General Pershing did not attend the opening ceremony but sent a letter of apology. The following year, on June 9, a grand and more formal dedication ceremony was staged.
The day's events started with a military parade, featuring the band of the Sixteenth Infantry, from West Side (now Lincoln) Park to Manhattan Avenue and onto Pershing Field. General Pershing led the dedication of the monument to Jersey City's World War I dead. His brief invocation simply stated: "I dedicate this field and monument in recognition of the boys of Jersey City who made the supreme sacrifice" (Quoted in "25,000 at Pershing Field Dedication." Troops from the Second Armed Corps followed with a military field day that included athletic events such as relay races, track and field events, military maneuvers and war games--all intent upon displaying the military preparedness of the US armed forces in the post-World War I era.
Among the dignitaries at the event were Governor George S. Silzer, US Senator Edward I. Edwards who was born in Jersey City, and Mayor Frank Hague, A. Harry Moore, and Major Gen. William C. Heppenheimer of Jersey City.
Pershing Field Memorial Park is approximately 13.5 acres and one of the largest of Jersey City's over forty municipally operated parks and playgrounds. After World War I, the city experienced a population boom, and the industrial community needed the outlet of open space for leisure and recreation. The solution was to build a park in the Jersey City Heights from a larger site intended for a reservoir, which became the adjacent Reservoir #3. The park, originally planned in 1918 as Reservoir Park, was designed by the noted landscape architect Charles N. Lowrie, responsible for Lincoln Park and the Stephen R. Gregg Park in Bayonne.
As one enters Pershing Field on Summit Avenue, there is a large arch made of reddish sandstone; it is the only remnant of the Fourth Regiment Armory building that once stood at Montgomery Street and Bergen Avenue. After the armory building was destroyed in 1927, the arch was reconstructed in Pershing Field in 1941 and later named a Jersey City designated historic site. Walking forward from the entrance is a plaque in honor of Mayor Hague and New Jersey Governor Moore from the E.K. Roosevelt Chapter of American War Mothers. Beyond the plaque and the placement of a flag pole is the bronze memorial statue.
Behind the statue is the Heights Vietnam Veterans Memorial Community Center dedicated in 1986. Other commemorative monuments to US military personnel in the service of their country found in the park are the Korean War memorial (Hudson County Chapter) dedicated on Armistice Day, November 11, 1998, and the Jersey City Vietnam Veterans memorial dedicated at a Memorial Day ceremony held on May 28, 2001.
From the Central Avenue entrance one may access a number of recreational venues for track, baseball, and tennis; there are also facilities for swimming and a skating rink. The children's playground is at the southern end of the park. Neighborhood residents frequently recall a time when they enjoyed ice skating on the infield that was flooded in the winter. The park once featured a sunken garden and bleachers that appear in postcards of the park.
Along the walking paths throughout the park are small stone markers with plaques bearing the names of veterans from World Wars I and II. Their presence gives one the sense that this section of Pershing Field has a more serious intent from the remaining recreational areas of the park.
"25,000 at Pershing Field Dedication." New York Times 10 June 1923.
Gomez, John. "'Triumphant' Day Due in Heights." Jersey Journal 21 June 2007.
Murphy, Josephine. "Reduced to Rubble: James Novelli's Victory." http://web.gc.cuny.edu/dept/arthi/part/part6/articles/jmurph.html
"Roses Fall on Monument." New York Times 05 July 1922, 21:7.