Last updated: July 31, 2013
July 31, 2013
Among the toys displayed in the nursery at the John F. Kennedy NHS is a toy cannon, made by the Ives & William Company of Bridgeport, CT. Advertised in an 1895 issue of The American Stationer as an iron toy "suitable mainly for Fourth of July trade", the cannon operated with a pull string attached to a spring-loaded hammer that fired a (blank) twenty-two caliber cartridge to make a loud noise. The toy is about three inches high, and a bit over seven inches in length.
Based on an artillery piece used in the Civil War by the Union to shell Charleston, SC in 1863, the Swamp Angel was so named because it was positioned on the "Marsh Battery", essentially a floating platform about 8,000 yards from downtown Charleston. The gun was an eight inch Parrott Rifle, named for its inventor Robert Parker Parrott. Parrott Rifles had a poor reputation for safety, being somewhat prone to explosion, and the Swamp Angel in fact burst on its thirty-sixth shot. This particular gun was so well known at the time that it became the subject of a poem by Herman Melville.
During her restoration of the Beals St. home, Rose Kennedy chose an Ives & William Company Swamp Angel toy cannon from the collection of The Museum of The City of New York to be loaned to the site for display in the nursery. When the loan was recalled many years later, the National Park Service was fortunate to locate an identical piece to add to the permanent collection, thereby helping maintain Mrs. Kennedy's vision for the site. It is not known for certain that the Kennedy children had one of these toys when they lived on Beals Street, but the Ives & William Company was one of the best known manufacturers of mechanical and clockwork toys and toy trains during the early twentieth century, so there may have been some of their products among Joe Jr. and Jack's playthings.