Sunday, February 14, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 22

In 1986 when Bob Alcumbrack and the cannon crew began digging for the missing killer cannon of Cannonsburg, Michigan, the cannon had disappeared for 101 years and the Twin Sisters of Texas had vanished for 122 years. These were the three most historical cannons in America, but Bob was the only cannon hunter who was actively engaged in trying to uncover not just the cannon, but to find closure on its secret disappearance, too. The cannon's true identity had been lost on purpose by design or historical accident. Ashby of Texas never did find the twin sisters resting spot in 1985 nor did Alcumbrack of Michigan in 1986, but he did uncover some of the ultimate secrets of its disappearance until 1988 when... Before spilling beans you need priveleged insights into the secrets behind our cannon adventure.

Life has dark shadows that are hidden in secrecy of past events. Who knows what the future holds for any one of us. Just when we think we've figured out a secret something else lurking in the shadows jumps out to illuminate unknown pathways to resolve mysteries. Unseen forces surprised us. You could say it was if the cannon was cursed, because it seemed to haunt our progress. Things went wrong we couldn't explain and what we felt at different sites made Bob a little superstitious, but at least he kept an open mind long enough to seek solutions in uncharted happenings. At certain sites, like the first big dig, in darkness it was spooky. It was as if someone or something sinister was watching his every step. The sudden cold spots on warm dark nights made him and his crew shiver, but we did find answers to revealing secrets that Bob never knew existed in Cannonsburg. When digging started he hadn't planned on exploration trips outside his circle of confidence and understanding. He hadn't pondered the fact his journey might take him into the world of paranormal anomalies. Tompsett died a violent death and cold spots to many ghost hunters is evidence of paranormal activity.

Bob Alcumbrack was aware of the Twin Sister expediton, but he chose to blot it out and concentrate all his efforts towards his biggest conquest. He knew it might be only a matter of time before the twins were found at a watery grave in Bray's Bayou and he knew it'd take the pressure of him. Ashby continued her quest to find the cannons offering large rewards for information, but alas nothing materialized.

Bob grew up in Cannonsburg and spent countless hours listening to the horror stories about the killer cannon and the tragic death of Walter Tompsett from eyewitness accounts, but the oldest residents abstained from giving Bob too much information. He strained his ears listening to their oral history lessons. He was a dust buster. His ears sucked up clues faster than dust bunnies, dirt and rumors. Since his youth Bob was forever digging in sand and probbing muddy sinkholes looking for the cannon and he was rewarded with finding numerous 19th century antiquities of Cannonsburg residents. He was obssessed with finding the cannon. To find a dream treasure requires passion and Bob had plenty.

Over the years Bob used the latest metal detectors and graduated to more sophisticated equipment such as electromagnetic meters and nuclear metal range finders. He began learning the basics of using brass dowsing rods and his mind to find objects. He practiced and practiced like a skillful musician. Using his dowsing craft he constantly fine tuned his dowsing mantra. He had to focus his mind and concentrate keeping a picture of the cannon in his mind's eye. He had dreamed about finding the cannon for 55 years and it was now or never. His physical stamina was beginning to decline. His dreams had taken him into obsession. Time was beginning to take its toll on his physical well-being. The aches and pains of senior status weren't far off.

Bob's search for the cannon was like playing "I've Got A Secret" and the five young men of 1885 kept the granddaddy of all secrets. Bob was already saying he felt "something was lurking in his shadow." Invisible prying eyes were watching and studying his daily movements. All of us felt uneasy digging for the cannon on dark nights. It was as if Tompsett's ghost or the spirits of the original five dead men were watching and laughed when things went wrong. The hair on our heads bristled, the hair on our bodies and arms rustled wildly. We felt this way when we dug at night hidden from the prying eyes of photojournalists. Were we being watched by the other cannon hunting group in the Cannonsburg area? Other eyes might find a clue to our success and find the cannon first destroying Bob's dream. Cannon and treasure hunters all agree: "We don't like the spy guys!" Wouldn't you feel cheated or robbed of your destiny as a cannon or treasure hunter if you purposely tipped them off and they found the objects of your affection? Why should they get the notoreity?

This entire story originates from the day the Cannonsburg town elders believed it was time to rid the community of their cannon due to its advanced age on July 3, 1885. The town elders had grown fond of the cannon, since they had been firing it for 38 years without any accidents, but time had taken its toll on the weapon. The cannon was given to Cannon Township town elders for naming the township and village after his last name "Cannon." LeGrand Cannon was an Eastern capitalist from New York who was the largest freeholder of land in Cannon Township between 1837-1850. Cannonsburg was platted and he gave away lots away "free" in exchange for owners if they put a dwelling on it and mortgaged it thru him. Of course they had to pay the taxes, too.

In appreciation Mr. Cannon gave town elders the special small cannon in his honor. He felt the town's genuine sincerity and thought the cannon donation was an honorable gift. He delivered it personally. What was surprising was the gift was from his heart and it was a secret that LeGrand Cannon kept from his closest friends and business associates. He didn't even involve his attorney and fishing companion, the esteemable John Ball of Grand Rapids. Mr. Cannon's land agent and property manager, E.B. Bostwick, for whom Bostwick Lake gets its honorable name know nothing about the cannon. Even Mr. Cannon's bookkeeper George Babcock at the Troy Rolling Mills in Troy, NY was unaware of the cannon gift to township officials. The only person Mr. Cannon trusted with knowledge of the gift was his best friend Capt. Gillispie of his Majesty's merchant marine service. Mr. Cannon's ancestry hails from France during the American Revolution. Mr. Cannon was born in 1786 in America.

The real story behind Bob Alcumbrack's search for the vanished cannon was the tragic death of Walter Tompsett. Tompsett was 26 years old, a farm laborer who was killed in a freak accident when the cannon prematurely discharged July 4, 1885. Cannon's only prematurely explode when improperly serviced. Human error or negligence. History doesn't say who else was injured, but five of the seven men disposed of the cannon when Tompsett died.

The reason town elders took it upon themselves to bury the cannon was because prior to 1885 cannon accidents were claiming too many lives and injuring too many citizens and friends at Fourth of July celebrations. Too many premature explosions, whether premature or accidental tragedies warranted the disposal of Civil War era cannons. They didn't want a dreadful accident to take a life in Cannon Township. Too many cannons all across America were being fired by men who hadn't had military artillery training. Cannon tools were being lost and not replaced for safe firing.

Cannonsburg town elders were saddened to hear a premature explosion severly injured H.D. Lovelace and Albert Pickett, the Marshal and Justice of the Peace in Rockford, Michigan on July 4, 1884. The town's old Civil War iron cannon burst prematurely when powder was being loaded. In July 1874 it prematurely discharged while loading and killed a Rockford man. On July 4, 1876, four men in Hopkins, Michigan sustained serious injuries when their town cannon prematurely discharged. Two had hands blown off, one severely burned, the other, the vent man lost his thumb. All these men got reckless firing the cannon. Most Michigan towns didn't celebrate the Fourth of July that year due to having received word that Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his 267 soidiers were slaughtered and killed by a Sioux war party in the Montana Territory at the "Battle of The Little Big Horn."

Communities west of the Mississippi River were afraid of other potential Indian uprisings so they saved gunpowder for town cannons for protection. Accident averages between 1874-1894 documented 538 injuries and 79 deaths per year at Fourth of July celebrations. That's why Cannon Township officials wanted to rid Cannonsburg of their old cannon. All along the Federal government was warning public officials about the perceived dangers of firing old post Civil War cannons. Town cannon firings had become a liability insurance nightmare. Many town cannons were forged after the Civil War of cheap recycled metals and iron cannons were calculated risks after 19 years old mostly due to weather. Weather was changing the cannon landscapes of America.

Remember the twin sisters of Texas were only 27 years old and considered too dangerous to fire during the Civil War. Firing them was suicide. The Federal government began posting strong warnings about iron cannon fatigue and too many innocent spectators were being killed too by exploding cannons. Many small towns heeded the Federal governments liability warnings and voluntarily retired the old weapons or recycled them into other products and in exchange promoted the use of fireworks, but in some instances people were still dying from premature explosions or being injured. Still fireworks were considered a safer alternative, but the loss of eyes, fingers, hands, limbs and death was still looming.

Since the day it was invented 'gunpowder' has always been a killer. Believe it or not, the State of Michigan in 1848 prohibited anyone from shooting up fireworks, because the entire state was a tinderbox out of dryness. Not even in within the city limits of Grand Rapids could you set off a firecracker or light cigars and cigarettes. Stiff finds and imprisonment ruled the year statewide.

Well, back in 1885, the town elders feared something dreadful might happen in Cannonsburg, so the town elders decided amongst themselves at secret board meetings and agreed to discreetly hide the cannon from public firings. They took control of the grave situation and made every effort to rectify their most immediate pressing problem and buried it July 3, 1885, but what they failed to do was silently keep the secret burial to themselves. Next time the logistics of who buried the cannon.

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