John White of Freeland works to paint the “Big Guns” at Fort Casey. It was a good day to paint, with the sunshine and fresh air, he said. (Maria Matson/Whidbey News Group)

John White of Freeland works to paint the “Big Guns” at Fort Casey. It was a good day to paint, with the sunshine and fresh air, he said. (Maria Matson/Whidbey News Group)

Fort Casey celebrates 50th anniversary of biggest draw

Celebration in recognition of ‘big guns’ arrival 50 years ago

By Maria Matson

Whidbey News Group

COUPEVILLE — Volunteers from all over on Saturday celebrated the placement of guns at Fort Casey Historical State Park.

The celebration was 50 years to the date of the Aug. 11, 1968, dedication.

John White of Freeland volunteered to paint the walls and guns at Fort Casey, which is just across Admiralty Bay from Fort Worden and a short walk from the Coupeville ferry landing.

It was a perfect day to paint, with the sunshine and air, he said.

Volunteer Sarah Steen, preservation coordinator for Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, said there were many people who helped out and gave the guns a fresh coat of paint.

Other volunteers were from the Coupeville Lions Club.

Janet Hall, the recently retired interpretive specialist for Central Whidbey State Parks, was involved with the planning for the anniversary.

“We decided that it’s the 50th year, we’d better celebrate that,” she said.

The Aug. 11 celebration included displays and activities, park tours and a keynote address by Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton.

There was also a presentation of colors, music by the Army National Guard Band, a panel discussion with experts who helped to bring the guns to Fort Casey and demonstrations of the communications tools involved in using the guns.

The guns at Fort Casey hold historical significance in that they are the only 10-inch disappearing guns in the United States, and two of four left in the world, according to a news release.

Disappearing guns, a technological marvel of the late 19th century, were designed to recoil behind their concrete emplacements after firing, the release said.

The guns at Fort Casey weigh 125 tons apiece and were made in the 1890s. Fort Casey is one of three late 19th century military forts that made up the “Triangle of Fire” to defend Puget Sound. Fort Worden and Fort Flagler are the other two points of the triangle.

The current guns are not original to Fort Casey, though they are the same model and vintage. The original guns, at the fort from 1902-42, were scrapped for metal by the U.S. military during World War II.

The guns located at the state park today were brought in from the Philippine Islands.

“The story of getting these guns to Fort Casey is absolutely fascinating. The story of the replacement guns is more interesting than the original guns,” said Meryl Lipman, a communications consultant for Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

“It’s a story of political intrigue, a storm at sea and it’s an interesting Washington state story.”

It took hard-fought efforts for over a decade to get the Philippine guns relocated from Fort Wint to Fort Casey. The Coupeville Lions Club was instrumental in that effort, Lipman said, as was Washington State Parks.

“Parks went on a crusade to bring these guns to Fort Casey,” Lipman said.

The Washington State Legislature ultimately voted to finance the transfer.

On the stormy journey over the ocean, the ship rolled 40 degrees three times, she said. “The guns bounced back and forth and ended up hanging over the side of the deck.”

Finally, the guns arrived safe and sound in Washington state.

At the 1968 dedication ceremony, Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson called the acquisition, “a story of perseverance.”

“These guns are the last of their kind,” Lipman said.

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