Street signs memorializing Boston Police officers killed in the line of duty have popped up at three Jamaica Plain locations as part of a citywide effort.
The gray-and-black signs are part of the “Hero Project” to mark spots where officers were killed, according to Boston Police Department (BPD) historian Officer Robert Anthony. All three of those killed in JP died in motorcycle accidents, and a September motorcycle parade is planned to memorialize them further.
“We don’t forget our own,” said Anthony.
The signs, which went up with no public announcement on Centre Street and the Arborway, are drawing questions and commentary from JP residents. One sign may be moved after a local historian raised the possibility that it is in the wrong spot. An activist group found that another sign showed up on the spot it was hoping to erect its own memorial to a pedestrian killed more recently on the Arborway.
JP resident Michael Moore told the Gazette he assumed a sign near his Pond Street home was for a “local hero” and was disappointed to discover the officer was the victim of a traffic accident. The signs describe the officers only as “killed in the line of duty,” with no explanation of how they died.
“Why, after 90 years, does the City put up an intrusive sign at the entrance to our neighborhood that makes people believe a police officer was murdered here?” Moore asked in an email to the Gazette.
“It’s not how these officers died that made them heroes. It’s how they lived,” said Anthony. The department equally honors all officers who died while protecting and serving the public, regardless of how they died, he said.
Anthony noted that the signs cannot contain all of the historical details. Instead, BPD is posting information about the fallen officers on its website, bpdnews.com. He indicated that BPD is interested in raising public awareness of the signs, but does not want to hold community meetings about each one and has City approval for them.
“We are doing something that reflects on someone [who] gave their lives so we can all sleep better at night knowing that someone is looking over us,” Anthony said.
Anthony said the Hero Project signs, which are paid for by the City and erected by the Department of Public Works, were scheduled to go up last November. But no one appears to have noticed them until the past few weeks, and they may have gone up much more recently.
The project has been under way for about two years and will wrap up next year, Anthony said. It appears that no more signs will be coming to JP.
The signs go up on existing street poles as close as possible to the spots where the officers were killed. Any surviving family members that BPD can locate receive a letter of notification about the sign.
A sign at Centre and Seaverns Avenue is dedicated to Officer Ward M. Bray, who died on April 14, 1921 when his motorcycle hit a truck head-on. “It was his first day on a motorcycle,” Anthony said.
The other two signs are on the Arborway—one at Centre Street in Murray Circle and one at Pond Street in Kelley Circle—and both commemorate officers killed while escorting the governor or mayor, Anthony said.
The Murray Circle sign memorializes Officer Daniel A. McCallum, killed on May 12, 1935.
Michael Reiskind, a local historian involved with the Jamaica Plain Historical Society, said the signs seem like a good idea. But, he added, the McCallum sign may be roughly a mile from its correct spot. Reiskind said that, by coincidence, he recently saw an old Boston Herald archive photo and caption that said McCallum died when he hit a tree while escorting then Gov. James Michael Curley, a JP resident, on the Jamaicaway just north of Bynner Street.
That sign now may be moved to the Jamaicaway site, Anthony said, after the Gazette gave him digital copies of the newspaper photo. He said that various newspaper reports about the accident gave conflicting accounts of the location, and that the official police report said it was on the Arborway. But he was not familiar with the Herald photo and caption, which points to a specific Jamaicaway tree as the accident scene, and will review the sign location, he said.
“These officers mean a lot to me and I take this job very seriously and want all of our heroes to be remembered,” Anthony said.
The Kelley Circle sign is for Officer Peter Paul Oginskis, killed May 5, 1923. It stands close to where JP resident Georgina Tyman was killed while crossing the Arborway in an infamous 2001 accident. As the Gazette previously reported, the Arborway Coalition plans to erect an informal sign in Kelley Circle to commemorate Tyman and urge drivers to slow down. Sarah Freeman of the Arborway Coalition told the Gazette she was surprised to see the police sign appear in the same area. The Tyman sign will be placed in a private yard elsewhere in the rotary, she said.
BPD plans to unveil a memorial to the department’s six fallen motorcycle officers in September at the Special Operations Unit headquarters in Roxbury, Anthony said. The event will include a “Ride to Remember” motorcycle parade from Fenway Park to the memorial site, with hundreds of riders, including BPD Commissioner Ed Davis, Anthony said. There also will be a color guard at the Bray sign site in JP, he said.
Anthony is BPD’s first official historian—he chooses to call himself a “chronologist” in recognition of his lack of formal historian training—and for years has worked to memorialize fallen officers alongside BPD records manager and archivist Margarett Sullivan. Approximately 75 officers have died in the line of duty since the department’s 1838 founding, he said.
Anthony was involved in the recent creation of a memorial in East Boston for Officer Ezekiel Hodsdon, who in 1857 became the BPD’s first officer killed in the line of duty. He and Sullivan also worked on the effort to locate and erect a tombstone on the previously unmarked grave of BPD’s first African-American officer, Horatio Homer, among other efforts.
Anthony and Sullivan continue to unearth the history of officers killed in the line of duty who did not make the official rolls. They have found six so far.
Anthony is also working on a book that will be BPD’s first official department history.
Corrected version: This version includes information about the role of BPD records manager and archivist Margarett Sullivan in the research efforts, corrects the number of further officers discovered to have been killed in the line of duty, and clarifies the reasons for the lack of public notice.