The World War Memorial in Riverhead has been decorated with 450 ceramic poppies in a Memorial Day tribute by Riverhead High School ceramics and creative crafts students.

The poppies were handmade by students of Selena Pagliarulo and Debbie Cantalupo, who installed the exhibit at the memorial site on the corner of West Main and Court streets yesterday. Riverhead Central School District’s Director of Fine Arts Jason Rottkamp assisted with the installation.

The ceramic poppy exhibit made its debut last year with 200 pieces. This year, the students added 250 more.

Riverhead High School art teachers Selena Pagliarulo and Debbie Cantalupo work on the ceramic poppy installation Friday.
Photo: Denise Civiletti

Poppies became a symbol of remembrance of World War I (July 28, 1914 – Nov. 11, 1918) because of “In Flanders Fields,” a poem written during the war by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian physician who wrote the poem in May 1915 after he conducted the funeral of a close friend killed in battle in Belgium.

The Riverhead installation was inspired by a public art installation in London called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” that opened in 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the World War I. That installation featured 888,246 ceramic red poppies representing the lives of British and Colonial serviceman killed in the war.

Ceramics teacher Pagliarulo, the daughter of a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, said she was very impressed by the Cummins installation and wanted to do something with her students “to give back and to honor people who have died fighting for our freedom.” See prior story, “High school students to ‘plant’ 200 ceramic poppies at Riverhead’s World War I monument for Memorial Day” (May 24, 2021)

Riverhead’s World War Memorial was erected in 1920 to honor the 304 Riverhead men who served in the Great War, and remember the nine men who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The monument, which bears the names of the Riverhead men who answered their country’s call, was initially built on the northwest corner of Griffing Avenue and West Main Street. It was relocated six years later to its current home, on property donated to the Suffolk County Historical Society by Riverhead resident Alice Perkins.

>>More on the history of the monument and the Riverhead men who served in the Great War.

The eternal flame atop the World War monument.
Photo Denise Civiletti

It is topped by a gas-powered eternal flame, a torch donated and installed in 2001 by Frederick Cowan and Company of Riverhead, a manufacturer of industrial burner equipment. Cowan did the job at the request of then-VFW Commander Eugene McSherry, who sought to replace a long-broken electric memorial light at the top of the monument. McSherry, a KeySpan employee, pitched the idea to Cowan executive Tom Cowan and arranged to get the natural gas line and hookup installed.

The flame has burned bright ever since, through all kinds of weather — including SuperStorm Sandy — with one brief outage in 2014, after a new meter was installed by National Grid.

The World War Memorial is the site of the first in a series of Memorial Day ceremonies that will take place on Monday morning, along the course of a parade that begins at 9 a.m. on the corner of Osborn Avenue and Pulaski Street. The parade and ceremonies are organized by the Riverhead Combined Veterans Committee. See prior story for details.

Riverhead High School art teachers Selena Pagliarulo and Debbie Cantalupo and Director of Fine Arts Jason Rottkamp.
Photo: Denise Civiletti

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.