Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British off the shores of Put-in-Bay, just 70 miles from Cleveland, during the War of 1812. The sounds of the cannon fire could be heard by Cleveland residents, drawing them to the shores of Lake Erie as Perry’s squadron defeated the British force on September 10, 1813 to win control of the western Great Lakes. Perry’s actions during the naval battle, epitomized by his victory message, "We have met the enemy and they are ours; two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop," won him hero’s attention and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1814. Commodore Perry continued to serve in the United States Navy after the war. He died of yellow fever during a diplomatic mission to Venezuela in 1819 and was buried with honors in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Perry moved about the United States North Coast in life, duty, and commemorative spirit as a warrior hero. Many cities along the way chose to recognize and honor him.
Forty-four years after the Battle of Lake Erie, Cleveland’s City Council and citizens resolved to honor Commodore Perry with a monument. Cleveland was first to commemorate Perry, but many would follow. On September 10, 1860, sculptor William Walcutt’s Commodore Perry statue was dedicated and centered in Public Square. Eighteen years later, it was moved to the southeast quadrant of Public Square. The marble rendering remained there until 1892 when the Soldiers & Sailors Monument displaced it from the Square. It stayed in storage a couple of years until it found a home in Wade Park in University Circle. After a nearly twenty-year stay at Wade Park, the statue again moved to make room for the Cleveland Museum of Art. It relocated in 1913 to Gordon Park, where it spent a little time in front of the Cleveland Aquarium before moving elsewhere in Gordon Park. Due to severe wear and tear at the hands of Lake Erie’s weather, two bronze replicas were cast of the Perry statue in 1929. One replaced the marble original in Gordon Park. In 1991, this Commodore Perry bronze monument would make his final journey to his current home in Fort Huntington Park in downtown Cleveland.
The second Walcutt bronze replica was sold to Perry’s home state of Rhode Island where it stands outside the Statehouse in Providence. The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Western Reserve Historical Society both declined offers to house the original. It was eventually given to the city of Perrysburg, Ohio, where, in 1937 another bronze replica was cast for that city’s park. The original statue has been on loan to the National Park Service since 2002 at the Perry Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put-in-Bay, Ohio.
Meanwhile, Perry’s hometown, Newport, Rhode Island, commissioned a statue rendering of the Commodore by William G. Turner. Unlike the crossed arm pose of Walcutt’s work, Turner’s pose featured the moment Perry stepped aboard the Niagara after leaving his heavily damaged USS Lawrence – right arm raised and the battle flag slung over his left shoulder. It was dedicated on September 10, 1885, and stands in Newport’s Eisenhower Park. Nearby, his relocated grave reveals Perry’s travels in death. He was reinterred in Newport’s Island Cemetery and memorialized with an obelisk grave marker.
As a naval commander in 1812, Oliver Hazard Perry first traveled to Buffalo, New York, to build his fleet. Proximity to the British forces across the river, drove him to Erie, Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle to complete the fleet. Like Cleveland, both cities chose to commemorate him with statues and monuments. Buffalo features a statue by Charles Niehaus at Front Park along Lake Erie while Erie features a Turner statue replica in the downtown area and an obelisk victory monument on Presque Isle where Perry’s fleet was assembled.
Perry's statue movements in and around Cleveland and elsewhere were first noted by a prophetic local poet in 1879 upon the Public Square relocation:
"O, Perry, mighty leader, yes an' terror of the foe, The hour has come when off your perch, they say you've got to go; For nearly twenty years you've stood, upon your base up there..."
Commodore Perry has landed at several homes from his East Coast hometown to his victory trail along Lake Erie.