Old Garibaldi, Old Stone Now United

A pre-Civil War cannon now has a new/old display base in the courtyard at West Virginia Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling.

The cannon, known as “Old Garibaldi” in honor of 19th-century Italian Gen. Giuseppe Garibaldi, was cast at the LaBelle Iron Works in Wheeling circa 1860.

After the former LaBelle plant was sold a few years ago, the new owner of the property gave the cannon to the state. The historic piece was placed on a small section of grass, bordering 16th Street, near the back entrance of West Virginia Independence Hall.

This month, the cannon finally received a proper foundation. It now rests atop a large block of stone that had been part of the B&O Railroad viaduct that was located nearby, explained Debbie Jones, site manager at the hall. When the viaduct was demolished several years ago, a number of chunks of stone were stored for future use, she said.

With the stone base added, the cannon remains in the same portion of lawn, but is more visible to passersby now.

Old Garibaldi never saw action on a battlefield, but townsfolk fired the cannon to mark the end of the Civil War in April 1865. At other times, the non-military weapon was fired on ceremonial occasions and to mark the end of subsequent wars. LaBelle fired the cannon for the final time in 1991, when the Persian Gulf War concluded.

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Meanwhile, the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation is preparing to bury a time capsule near the base of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which has been moved from Wheeling Park to the side yard at West Virginia Independence Hall.

An earlier time capsule was placed beneath the Soldiers and Sailors Monument when it was erected on the grounds of the old Ohio County courthouse at 16th and Chapline streets in 1883.

Foundation members have a list of the contents of the original time capsule, but the actual vessel and those artifacts have been lost to the ages.

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Katherine Coleman Johnson, West Virginia native and famed NASA mathematician, will celebrate her 100th birthday next Sunday.

In honor of the occasion, the SMART Centre Market, located at 30 22nd St., Wheeling, will hold a Katherine Johnson centennial birthday celebration at 1 p.m. Saturday. The event is free and open to the public.

Also, West Virginia State University officials will unveil a bronze statue of Johnson on its Institute campus at 11 a.m. Saturday. She graduated from the school in 1937.

Johnson, who now resides in Hampton, Virginia, was born in White Sulphur Springs on Aug. 26, 1918. She was one of NASA’s “human computers” profiled in the book and film, “Hidden Figures.”

During her career, Johnson worked on America’s first human space flight, the orbital mission of John Glenn, Project Apollo’s lunar lander and the space shuttle. She retired from NASA in 1986.

In 2015, Johnson was awarded the country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama.

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Travis Stimeling, associate professor of musicology at West Virginia University, has offered his take on the musical accomplishments of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, who died Thursday.

He commented, “Aretha Franklin was a masterful interpreter of songs in a wide range of traditions, from the gospel music she grew up with to country classics and jazz standards. Although she’s best known for her major hits, such as ‘Respect’ and ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,’ her takes on such songs as ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘Gentle on My Mind’ show the emotional depth that she was able to pull out of even the most worn-out pop song.”

Stimeling appeared at the Ohio County Public Library recently to talk about his book, “Songwriting in Contemporary West Virginia: Profiles and Reflections.”

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer.net

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