From the Brattleboro Reformer
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Edward Baker Square
Bridget Griffin Baker arrived in Brattleboro from Dingle, Ireland, when she was 16 years old, in 1889.Her grandson, Steve Baker, owner of Baker’s Business Interiors and Baker’s Hallmark, recalled recently how much his grandmother Bridget enjoyed visiting Hampton Beach on the New Hampshire coast.
“It reminded her of Dingle,” he said.
Bridget’s in-law’s owned three houses on Elliot Street where a majority of Brattleboro’s Irish immigrants lived.
Her mother-in-law Hannah gave Bridget and her husband Michael Baker the opportunity to live at the former 146 Elliot St. for a lifetime tenancy for one dollar.
Their nine children were born in the house where originally there was no central heating and Bridget cooked all her family’s food on a woodstove in the kitchen.
Steve Baker’s father, James, grew up in the household.
“My father told me that my grandparents were thrifty people. If they had beet greens in the garden, the kids were fed beet greens for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
The eldest of Bridget and Michael’s children was named Edward M. Baker, born May 10, 1901. He was Steve Baker’s uncle.
“My Uncle Edward had to get permission from his parents to enlist in the Army when he was 15 years old. Prior to that, he attended St. Michael’s prep school for junior high and high school, which later became St. Michael’s College in Winooski,” recalled Baker.
In 1916, young Edward was a private in the Army, serving on the Mexican border with other Brattleboro boys Jim Denning, Ernie Johnson and Bernard Dunleavy.
The revolutionary Mexican general Pancho Villa, allegedly sponsored by the Germans who were already engaged in World War I, launched a raid and captured 19 U.S. citizens in January 1916.
“The Brattleboro Boys ended up chasing Pancho Villa,” said Baker.
In 1917, when the U.S. officially entered World War I, The Brattleboro Daily Reformer reported on April 3, 1917 that, “This morning at six o’clock the first alarm sounded the ten blows of the military call and from all over town members of the company were soon hurrying towards the Armory.”
Baker’s company was shipped to France. He was a private in the 103rd Regiment, 26th (Yankee) Infantry Division, of the American Expeditionary Force, along with 101 other young men from Brattleboro.
Edward Baker died Feb. 28, 1918, at the tender age of 16. He was the first Brattleboro resident to die during World War I. It is not known whether he perished in the flu epidemic or if his appendix burst, but The Brattleboro Daily Reformer reported the following on March 12, 1918: “Although he did not die in actual engagement his death none the less was for you and me, that our homes might be saved. God met the supreme test of love by giving the life of his son to save the world. Young Baker met the supreme test of love by giving his life to save his country.”
Baker’s service was held at St. Michael’s Catholic Church. An audience that almost filled the church attended the service. The altar was draped in mourning and on either side was the Stars and Stripes.
Although the body was in France, the ceremony was carried out as though it had been present. Rev. James P. Rand, who continued to serve his church community for over 50 years, gave the eulogy.
Edward Baker is interred in St. Michael’s Cemetery south of the Rev. Cunningham circle.
Several years later, a bronze memorial plaque featuring a star atop the words, “Edward Baker Square” was placed in the small park at the corner of Church and Green streets in honor of young Baker’s sacrifice.
Many years later, Brattleboro American Legion Post 5 decided to remove the memorial and replace it on the square at Park Place and Putney Road so that it could be more visible in the community. The marker can still be seen as the road splits to the roundabout and up Putney Road, and is marked by an American flag.
“He died when he was almost seventeen, but at that time he’d already served in the Army for close to two years,” said Steve Baker. “My grandmother didn’t talk about him much. I imagine it was terribly difficult to lose her eldest son to war.”
Fran Lynggaard Hansen writes her weekly column, “Downstreet,” from her Brattleboro home. She welcomes your comments at email@example.com.