Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 24

Stupid! That's exactly the truth. Why don't those who push the extremes in harsh weather dress appropriately and obey warnings about adverse weather and mountain climbing dangers before they embark on a hiking trip to the top of Mt. St. Helen's to take pictures? Did you hear about the hiker yesterday (Feb.15) who before leaving was warned that the mountain top was very unstable, but still climbed atop the rim? The hiker thought nothing of the warnings, stood about five feet from a cornice to snap a photo and the ledge collapsed. He catapulted into the crater and fell 1500 feet. Rescue helicopters flew into the crater, but strong winds made them abort a rescue attempt, but they did drop more adequate weather gear and supplies. Rescuers noted he didn't move and weren't sure he was alive. He wasn't totally stupid since during the night they heard him blowing his rescue whistle - that's a miracle, but will they be able to reach him before he freezes to death by excessive cold. Why is it some people don't listen to authorities and seem to push the envelope of adventure to such extremes as to place rescuers in such grave danger from avalanches between the inside crater walls and the live lava dome of an active volcano? "Stupid is as stupid does," said Forrest Gump, played by Tom Hanks.

Whether its extreme sports or treasure hunting its ego and the thrill of accomplishing the goals of dreams. Some love the hunt for adventure, while others just enjoy the thrill of doing something fantastic to prove their tenacity for life beyond good judgement Bob Aclumbrack had vision, endurance, courage and the energy to push himself and his crew of six men towards victory in his search for the sunken cannon. The same was true for the original seven men involved in the Cannonsburg cannon accident. To my thinking men are doers, not sitters and they can't stand being tied down without anything to do, but create trouble. Seems men are always getting themselves into serious jams and its others who must put their lives in danger to help or rescue those displaying their arrogant stupidity.

Weather leading up to the Fourth of July 1885, the people living in Michigan were experiencing the strangest weather. None of them could remember when the weather went to such extremes but the summers of 1847-49 were the most unbearable in Michigan history to pioneer settlers and it forced some to flee towards the gold fields near Ft. Sumpter California. Ottawa Indians said 1848 wasn't as bad as winter of 1831-32 and 1836 when more than 200 tornadoes ripped wide swaths of forest destruction across Michigan in one day. Spring and summer arrived on June 22, 1885, and not the first on March 21.

The winter of 1885 was cold and snowy and snowstorms ravaged Michigan until late May. Folks were miserable and the frozen ground, too hard for tilling and planting dampened their spring spirits. Then when the sun did start melting everything it turned our blazing hot in early June and the thaw was happening. The hot winds of change fanned their faces, but the fields and woods turned tinder dry and forest fires broke out. The people were tired of fighting flames and snorking smoke and then a cold snap with heavy frosts and bitter winds returned the third week of June. The weather extremes of 1885 were the same extremes of the 21 century (2009). From this historian's viewpoint global warming doesn't exist, but mans prolific use of concrete and asphalt causing heat to rise will alter and create weather extremes. The weather changed history in 1885. The pioneers were sick and tired of fighting with mother nature's tantrums and it was a bad year to deny the young seven men of their rights to fire the cannon. Independence Day picnics and festivities and cannon firing were the boredom breakers.

Lake Michigan was so low in 1848 freight bound for Grand Rapids was off loaded on pole boats over the sand bar at the mouth of the Grand River, then transferred and transported up the river by the flat-bottomed steamer called the HUMMINGBIRD.

This vessel ran up the river to Eastmanville and Grandville docks twice each day. The shallow 12-inch draft vessel had a small 1/2 pound swivel cannon, like Mike Fink's, lashed to her deck to announce she was within one mile of her destination. This vessel actually brought the Cannonsburg cannon up the Grand River from Grand Rapids in 1848 to Plainfield/Austerlitz and LeGrand Cannon personally delivered the cannon with rental wagon to Cannon Township officials. The small cannon had been fired for 38 years without any accidents until 1885.

When the Independence Day celebratory speeches and picnic banquet feast was done, the seven young men rushed down to prime the cannon and a thunderous "BOOM" shook the picnic grounds. The cannon roared, the ground shook and big bellows of rising white smoke filled the air until Walter Tompsett and two other friends made a deadly mistake in judgement while loading.

Right around 1:00 p.m. for some unknown reason Tompsett was standing in front of the muzzle when it was being loaded with gunpowder. The man thought to be Fred Thomas seated the powder, released his hand just as the cannon prematurely discharged, the ramrod rocketed out in a burst of bellowing smoke and struck Tompsett's knee. Either Tompsett wasn't thinking or he was somehow distracted by conversations while the cannon was being primed.

"BOOM!" The cloud of ashen-white smoke filled the air, the ramrod shattering Tompsett's knee, the bones and muscles splattered across the grass. Tompsett screamed in sheer agony and was thrown by the concussion and severely burned before he hit the ground. The cannon's roar ceased, but Tompsett's screams brought the entire festive celebration to an instant halt. Mother's covered the ears of their children when they saw Tompsett screaming and saw him writhing on the ground holding what was left of his leg, his face grimaced in unimaginable pain. All six men were thrown backwards from the concussion. Aid rushed down to Tompsett and it was an awful bad scene.

William S. Johnson, Frank Ladner, Cornelius Harvey and James Thomas, the town elders who buried the old cannon 18 hours earlier knew the outcome of their inability to bury the cannon and keep it secretly buried. They ran down to Tompsett yelling, "We knew it, we knew this was going to happen, the government said it was going to happen, why didn't you leave it buried?" See what happened! Angry words flew out, too, probably a some expletives and colorful metaphors that need not be printed here. Put yourself in the picture as the father of a son firing the cannon. What would your response be to the accident unfolding?

Can you see the hysteria and panic of the women and children all watching and listening with heads bowed, some already crying wondering who was injured? They knew by the screams that the carnage was terribly bad. Listening to the screams of agony was bad enough, the children didn't need to see the injuries. As men and officials rushed to Tompsett's aid some young women were crying hysterically as Dr. Patterson tried to comfort them. Someone yelled out it was Tompsett and Rena, his wife put her one-year old son Walter in the arms of another woman and ran to the accident scene. The men kneeled around her husband and she burst into tears and staggered back at the unsightly wound. His blood gushing from his severed leg, the bones splintered, the flesh burned. With tears streaking down her face she tried to comfort Walter as someone else tried dressing the nearly amputated leg to stem the flow of blood She knew amputation surgery was the only way to save his life. His knee was gone, the upper leg and lower leg held together by only bloody skin.

The men gathered around and picked up Tompsett who screamed in unbelievable pain and laid him in a wagon. Each bump down the hill he screamed louder and finally arrived at Dr. Patterson's house. The journey must have felt like eternity -- the same feelings as ambulance rides today on bumpy roads and highways. The picnic was over. Many packed up and left in a sober mood, while the eye witnesses to the tragedy gathered outside Dr. Patterson's praying for a miracle that God would save Tompsett.

Word was dispatched to Edgerton and Walter Tompsett's mother and father were summoned, but it was a full days ride from Edgerton to Cannonsburg. Dr. Patterson assumed control and sent for Dr. Hyser at Plainfield and Dr. Johnson, a surgeon from Grand Rapids. It'd be a full days ride for them, too, but before they arrived young Tompsett had bled to death and died 12 hours after the tragic accident. Dr. Patterson was a preacher and could only attend to his soul. Tompsett laid in agony on a table, stretcher or bed and Rena literally watched her husband bleed to death. Upon his death the crowd swelled in silence and prayed for the Tompsett family in Cannonsburg, formerly known as Churchtown before 1847.

It must have been a horrific 12 hours for Rena Tompsett watching and listening to the love of her life; husband, son and friend for life die so painfully. Tompsett's cannon firing friends and town elders who couldn't keep silent the cannon's burial secret probably argued until his death where to dispose of the killer cannon.

Gruesome as it all sounds, this is the beginning vision about the Cannonsburg cannon accident. Each time you read the gruesome story the picture will be more fine-tuned, but Tompsett's tragedy will be the same. Only when I repeat the story in more detail will you discover the unknown secrets the Cannonsburg eyewitnesses took to their graves. Walter Tompsett's death made them the ultimate secret society. Never again as long as they lived would they talk about the accident that shook them to silence until... destiny 101 years into the future would the secrets unfold. Next time I'll we'll see what happens to the cannon. The tragedy view above is fictional and the real scene is only known by those who witnessed the tragedy and God, but it was the closest to reality for the accuracy of the story.

No comments:

Post a Comment