Photos by Maria Matson/Whidbey News-Times
                                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. The work is being done by volunteers in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the “Big Guns” arrival, which will be held on Aug. 11.

Photos by Maria Matson/Whidbey News-Times 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. The work is being done by volunteers in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the “Big Guns” arrival, which will be held on Aug. 11.

Fort Casey celebrates 50th anniversary of biggest draw

Volunteers from all over are working hard to get the “Big Guns” ready at Fort Casey Historical State Park.

It’s all in preparation for the 50th anniversary celebration of the guns being located at the state park. The celebration is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at the park. It’s 50 years to the day of the Aug. 11, 1968, dedication.

John White, of Freeland, volunteered to paint the walls and guns at Fort Casey on Monday, July 16.

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

Volunteer Sarah Steen, preservation coordinator for Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, said there are been many people interested in helping out over the three-day period that will leave the guns and walls freshly painted.

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. “It should be a really fun day.”

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

There will also be 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.

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 gun 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.

She said she’s looking forward to the upcoming 50th anniversary celebration.

“It’s going to be great,” Lipman said, “It’s going to be an exciting day at Fort Casey.”

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