A mile or so north of town Cheyenne Creek ran under a bridge on US Highway 75. It was an old bridge with ornamental concrete balustrades fencing in the sides of the highway to keep cars from plunging into the water below. On each end of the bridge there was a sturdy concrete corner post. On the southeastern corner post a weathered brass plaque commemorating Lt. James Canary, scion of one of Caney's first families, who had died in the First World War had been mounted. The plaque told briefly of how he lost his life in combat. I read the words on that plaque many times perhaps connecting his wartime death with that of my brother’s.
Whatever prominence the Canary family had enjoyed at one time in Caney no longer existed. Its only remnant was Lt. Canary’s plaque and a large, handsome house at the Far Eastern end of Fourth Street that was called “The Canary Mansion”. An old lady, who was said to be Mrs. Canary, allegedly lived there either alone or with house servants. No one I knew had ever seen the old lady and the mansion was already showing signs of being a relic of a bygone time.
“Lieutenant Canary’s Bridge,” as I always thought of it, was situated exactly in the middle of a sharp, 90-degree curve in US Highway 75. Over the years there had been numerous accidents on that curve from speeding, drunk driving or just incompetence. Sometime in the 1960’s, after I had moved on from Caney, the bridge was widened and rebuilt. Utility usurped beauty as it has done so often in modern times. Steel guardrails replaced the ornate concrete balusters. There were no corner posts. Lieutenant Canary’s plaque was nowhere to be seen on the new bridge. At best it may have found its way into an antique store or flea market. At worst it was simply thrown away.
The Rest of the Story
What had happened to Lt. Canary’s plaque was a question that came to my mind at odd times over the next fifty years or so especially when I came “home” to visit my old home town. In the spring of 2011, while I was “back home” for my high school alumni reunion my question was answered. A Historical Society had been founded several years ago. I told the lady who is President of that society about how that question had been in my mind for so long. She had the answer.
When the County Highway Department oversaw the construction of the “new” bridge they took Lt. Canary’s plaque to their warehouse. It sat there for many years gathering dust and being forgotten. Then, the County Commissioner, who probably only dimly knew what World War I was, sold it along with some other scrap metal; to be melted down and re-cycled.
Sometimes I think of Lt. James Canary when my mind wanders - contemplating the meaning of legacies, monuments, statues and eternity. The Romans had a saying for such things: "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. “So Goes the Glory of the World.”
Yeah, the only truly lasting monuments we leave are the love and memories we pass on to our kids - and some knowledge of who we were, what kind of life did we lead, and how we felt about it. And THAT . . . is why I am so evangelistic about this Legacy Project. I hope everyone who puts stories for us to read invites at least one friend or relative to join the project. I did and it paid off very well.