BEVERLY — On Sept. 12, 1976, a crowd of more than 100 people, including Mayor James Vitale, watched as Lois Healey stepped up on a folding chair and hung a wreath on a sign marking the newly dedicated Frederick D. Healey Jr. Square.
The moment was meant to secure forever the legacy of Healey, who served in three wars and was commended for his bravery under fire during the Korean War.
So you can imagine Lois Healey's surprise this month when she learned that the city had held a ceremony on Veterans Day to rededicate Healey Square — not for her husband, but in honor of a Civil War mariner from Beverly named Joseph E. Healey.
"I turned to my daughter with my mouth open," she said.
The mistake was the product of a well-intentioned effort by city officials to repair 15 signs marking city squares in memory of Beverly veterans. Instead of simply ordering new signs, Mike Collins, commissioner of public services and engineering, wanted to research the history of each veteran and tell their stories, some of which were missing or incomplete.
Healey Square, at the corner of Cabot and Judson streets next to the Cabot Cinema, was a perfect candidate. Its sign said only "Healey Square," with no first name or initials and no reference to the war in which the veteran served.
Collins and Veterans' Agent Jerry Guilebbe checked a list of Beverly veterans killed in action on plaques at the former Memorial Middle School and discovered that a "Joseph E. Healey" had died in the Civil War. Collins and Guilebbe concluded that Healey Square must have been named for him.
On Veterans Day, with Mayor Bill Scanlon and Joseph Healey's great-great-great-granddaughter among the small gathering, the city rededicated the square — or at least thought it was rededicating the square — in honor of Joseph Healey. A new sign at the location reads, "Joseph E. Healey. Navy Seaman, KIA, June 1862."