Pershing Field Memorial Park, opened in 1922, was dedicated in 1923 to commemorate the Jersey City soldiers who died during World War I. Today, the park 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 and recalls when the grounds were used for military training during World War I. The prominent eight-foot painted-gold bronze memorial statue, "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 wrapped by a wreath of glory, and has folded arms holding a sword and shield.
Born in Italy, Novelli 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 commissions after World War I for war monuments. In a website essay, Josephine Murphy, 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 dedication started with a military parade featuring the band of the Sixteenth Infantry, marching from West Side (now Lincoln) Park to Manhattan Avenue and onto Pershing Field. General Pershing gave a brief invocation stating: "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, to display the military preparedness of the US armed forces after World War I.
Among the dignitaries at the event were Governor George S. Silzer, US Senator Edward I. Edwards, Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague, A. Harry Moore, and Major Gen. William C. Heppenheimer.
Pershing Field Memorial Park is approximately 13.5 acres and is one of the largest of Jersey City's over forty municipally-run parks and playgrounds. After World War I, the city experienced population growth and recognized the community's need for more leisure and recreational open space. One solution was a park in Jersey City Heights from a site intended for a reservoir, now the adjacent Reservoir #3. The park, planned in 1918 as Reservoir Park, was designed by the noted landscape architect Charles N. Lowrie, responsible for Lincoln Park, and Stephen R. Gregg Park in Bayonne.
As one enters Pershing Field on Summit Avenue, there is a large arch of reddish sandstone. It is the only remnant of the Fourth Regiment Armory building that once stood at Montgomery Street and Bergen Avenue. The armory building was destroyed in 1927. The arch was reconstructed in Pershing Field in 1941 and named a Jersey City-designated historic site. Near the entrance is a plaque for Mayor Hague and New Jersey Governor Moore from the E.K. Roosevelt Chapter of American War Mothers.
The Heights Vietnam Veterans Memorial Community Center in the park was dedicated in 1986. Other commemorative monuments to US military personnel 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 on May 28, 2001. Along the park's walking paths are 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 solemn intent apart from the park's recreational areas
The park's Central Avenue entrance opens to its track, baseball, tennis, swimming, and skating facilities. 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.
"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.