Sunday, January 3, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 10

"CRASH, WHOMP, THUD." Something hit the floor inside a closet in 2009. Glass, plaster, wood littered the interior floor. It came from someplace outside, but nobody was injured in the house. What a mess? The two-pound cannonball did lots of structural damage. Who could be the moron that fired a cannon? Well, it was none other than William Maser, 54, a Pennsylvania history buff who made a reproduction cannon. It was his longtime hobby and he fired off a shot from his 19th century cannon from his Georges Township property near Pittsburgh. Simply put he miscalculated the old naval cannon's elevation and the two pound iron cannonball hit a neighbors house nearly 400 yards away. That's nearly a quarter mile downrange. Not a smart thing. State police charged him with disorderly conduct, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. He apologized, said he was sorry and promised everyone he wouldn't shoot it on his property again. These small cannons are as dangerous today as they were four hundred years ago.

Patience was our guide when searching for secrets of a sunken cannon. It became an obssession. Treasure hunters must have all the patience in the world, but we were curious enough to stay the distance.

Oh my, I'm starting to mimic Walter Cronkite, the documentary host. We all thrived on PBS-WGVU-35 program motto of "Be curious..." of your world. That was our mission statement. Be not afraid of the unknown, but know what you like or dislike. Searching for cannons is the same as hunting for treasure, but cannon hunting is the ultimate treasure. Find a cannon with historical documentation and it could fetch upwards of a quarter million dollars. That's why Bob Alcumbrack and crew kept silent. The world didn't need to know the secrets before the treasure cannon was found.

The first few days of watching Bob Alcumbrack using his dowsing rods at the big dig site made me skeptical. I couldn't believe my eyeballs. Surely two metal rods couldn't find the cannon, but each time he walked the planks above the coffer box, the rods framed the dimensions of the cannon. What made me skeptical was the cannon's overall size. My mind kept repeating "How could five men unearth, remove the cannon from its burial spot and after the accident how could five men haul it secretly out of town and be seen by one person, who was only 8 years old?

The cannon Bob had located was 11-14 feet long - a six-pound military field cannon. That's the smallest cannon in the US Army prior to the Civil War. How could he raise a 3000+pound cannon from a watery grave? How was he going to document the carriage, because he was witching cannon plus carriage? In his mind he thought all he had to do was find the cannon, but I threw a monkey wrench into his gears the third when I announced he had to grid sketch the carriage, because being sunk in water for 101 years the carriage architecture would be mush. Disturbed soil and water currents would dissolve the carriage rendering the find void. He'd be no better than archaeological theives who tear shipwrecks apart or plunder Egyptian Temples for extra cash rather than historical preservation.

Bob had no idea how he was going to sketch carriage and cannon. These things he didn't investigate and he made no provisions for them. On top of that he had to find the engravement plaques to authenticate the cannon -- name and date given to Cannon Township. The placque was reportedly made of brass, but the cannon could have been engraved, but not if it were made of iron. Without cannon authentication it would be worthless, but Bob didn't care about monetary value. It was to find, restore, preserve and protect for future generations, but without authentification how do you prove it is the correct cannon. Without proof positive its another worthless marina or landscape cannon without a pedigree. No proof of its historical heritage.

Bob, the crew and I used the 'best' of our time and technology searching for his dream cannon, but Bob found out he didn't have all the answers to problems encountered. We learned things we never knew existed. We found out we are young once and foolish until we die. We don't have all the answers, but Bob and friends waited 55 years to play in ice-cold water and experience Sandbox 101 engineering activites that challenged and taxed our brains. Bob felt old at 55. He knew his health was changing. His physical body was racked with muscle pain, but he overcame them with medication that worked when excavating tons of sand. His mind convinced him he was still young, but it was time to dig up his wildest dream - the Cannonsburg cannon.

All of us, that includes you reading this post facto, will never know everything, except for teenageers who hit ages 13-16 who magically swallowed an imaginary "wisdom pill" in know it all class and believe anyone older than themselves know nothing. Adults suddenly are disfunctional. Trouble is, those with all book knowledge don't have time to stop and play mindless video games. Know it alls must keep reading forever and never stop. Book knowledge without life experiences makes one stupid. Know it alls are never afraid to admit they don't know the answer. They make up false answers to make themselves look smarter than they really are. In life journey, wherever it takes you, never be afraid to admit you don't know an answer to perplexing problems.

Ask for professional help, but beware of those with schooling degrees who lack hands-on experience and give unproven answers just to fill in the blanks to sound more intelligent than you. Know in your heart and mind what's right or wrong for many will lead you astray and cost you money better spend elsewhere. Sure we met a few loud-mouthed dunderheads in our journey. We needed skilled individuals, but not if they drank booze. Booze was their folly to blab secrets and we couldn't trust them to keep silent or use their talents. The core group had to trust each other. We were a tight knit team players who spoke softly.

Whether cannon or treasure hunting those doing the physical work must have confidence in each other's abilities and limitations. Trust is the key to successful endings. Bob was finally digging up his wildest dream, but the TV cameras and news media personnel made Bob and his friend Alan Janose, his air injector and compression specialist, the shy guys. Whenever possible they hid behind trees as did Luther Augustine whose red hat and lower cheeks were wider than trees. Cameramen were always yelling questions at Bob that broke his concentration when dowsing. They challenged his leadership. Bob wasn't happy and hadn't planned on TV cameras documenting his progress. They were always yelling questions to Bob with "Are you ahead of the Texas group in digging?"

Low and behold on July 1, 1986 it had become a race to uncover three historical cannons. The Cannonsburg cannon was being pitted against the recovery operations for the two cannons of Texas known as the "Twin Sisters." Both groups were vying for top honors - the discovery and return of two different cannons from two different geographical regions on American soil. Both were expeditions of America's most important historical on American soil. The closeup TV camera shots made Bob paranoid. He didn't like the feeling that someone was always looking over his shoulder whether cameramen or spectator. It unnerved him.

We always joked with him that the Michigan DNR might have planted spies in the spectator's who might be just waiting to pounce on his operation for excavating in a wetland. Michigan's environmental personnel frown upon such operations, but Bob and crew made sure we made minimal disturbances of wetland streams. Mother Nature did more damage. Bob and crew didn't give the DNR any reason to squawk and stop his historical dig. We were wetland protectors.

Bob's step-father-in-law was Luther Augustine, who owned the big dig property upon which Bob was digging. Luther pondered his insurance liability limits when so many spectators arrived to watch Bob dig up the cannon. Luther's basic concern was someone other than Bob's crew might fall and get hurt as they walked around scanning Bob's dig from different angles. Luther was going to share in the limelight of cameras when the cannon was found. Every day the crowd got larger, more talking. Hundreds of people gathered to watch Bob make Michigan history when the cannon was rescued. Hourly updates were given. Excess chattering interrupted Bob's concentration. The crowd pitch grew louder and Bob's psyche and progress were challenged. Often he turned a cold shoulder to cameramen. Bob grew uncomfortable and his facial expressions showed extreme pressure and more solemn.

Walking journalists with powerful macro-lenses could count the number of whiskers on startled chipmunks a half-mile distant. Lip readers could tell what Bob was saying to his crew and that's why Bob hid behind trees, his lips to the ground as if talking to ants. Secrets we weren't willing to share. We hung our heads so nobody could read our lips. Our core group lips were hidden from view. The public realm wasn't to be privy to our conversations.

Freelance paparizzo's dogged our dark late night investigations at Moffit and Prospect Hills areas in Cannon Township. The camera flashes interrupted our dark night infrared photo ops. It was another reason Bob got paranoid. He felt bad vibes and they interrupted our mission. Too many probing eyes had shattered Bob's concentrations.

You now see what cannon and treasure hunters must avoid during searches for missing artifacts and treasure objects. It's too easy to tip our lips to other prying eyes. Secrets we didn't want to share with the public lest someone in another treasure group find the cannon first.

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