In February 1904 a contingent of Napans participated in a unique event at Mare Island. In addition to the rare opportunity of being granted full access to the Navy shipyard, they witnessed Napa City’s receipt of a Spanish-American War relic, a cannon or “big gun,” during an elaborate military ceremony.
A one dollar ticket granted those Napans a Napa-Mare Island round-trip passage aboard the Zinfandel steamboat as well as an unrestricted pass to Mare Island. Leaving Napa at 7 a.m. that cold and rainy February morning, the Zinfandel and its passengers arrived at Mare Island two hours later. The Zinfandel’s Captain, N.H. Wulff, Jr., had obtained a special permit to dock directly at Mare Island.
Once those passengers had disembarked, they spent the day enjoying numerous activities and special events, such as yacht races, torpedo-boat races, touring the yard’s shops and vessels. However, one of the most unique events was the two Mare Island submarines performing a maneuvers demonstration.
The Napa contingent viewed those exercises abroad the Zinfandel. It was allowed to steam out to a close, yet safe, vantage point of the exercise location near Red Rock. Those who brought their cameras had “a rare opportunity to secure some novel pictures,” added the Napa Daily Journal.
While all of those activities were exciting, the most eagerly anticipated event, and primary purpose, of the excursion was the official ceremony when Napa’s Mayor Fuller received and accepted the cannon on behalf of the local citizenry. The ceremony, and grand finale of the day, was “done in a graceful manner.” The Journal reported, “Admiral McCalla made a brief yet formal speech. Mayor Fuller responded in a neat and appropriate address.”
According to the newspaper, the 2 1/2 ton, 12-centimeter cannon was salvaged from the Spanish warship ISLE DE CUBA. That ship was involved in the Manila Bay, Philippine Islands campaign against the U.S. Navy. On May 1, 1898, the Isle de Cuba was one of the first Spanish ships to be sunk by the U.S. Navy and Commodore Dewey. Communities across America were clamoring for any sort of souvenir of that war, especially relics from the Spanish fleet.
Apparently, Napa County Congressman Theodore A. Bell had requested the loan of the cannon from the Naval Department to Napa. Both Napa residents and their city council were thrilled when they received the official notification.
After that initial excitement wore off, everyone wondered how the cannon could be transported from Mare Island to Napa. Captain Wulff quickly stepped in to provide the solution. He offered to transport the cannon aboard his steamer, the Zinfandel.
The Journal continued, following the ceremony, “The Mayor superintended the loading of the big gun, which was accomplished quickly and without a hitch.” Shortly thereafter, at about 3 p.m., the Zinfandel and its Napa contingent embarked for home.
According to the Journal, once unloaded from the Zinfandel in Napa, the cannon was temporarily displayed at the Court House square. Following the completion of the construction of its intended display site, it was moved to Napa’s community park—now known as Fuller Park—to be a permanent fixture of those grounds.
Although originally loaned to Napa, the municipality planned to buy the cannon. In fact, the city had already secured the needed funds through voter-approved city bonds.
Beyond these points, the rest of the cannon’s local history is a bit sketchy, at best. However, members of long-time Napa families have shared accounts of their parents and/or grandparents’ childhood reminiscences about playing on or around the cannon at Fuller Park. Some of these sources are also of the opinion the cannon was reclaimed by the U.S. government during the World War I scrap metal drives.