Thursday, February 18, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 26

Over hill n' dale the Cannonsburg cannon went missing in the wee morning hours of July 5, 1885. Five men hauled the rickety carriage with cannon in tow past Estella Wards house on Joyce Street, then disappeared up the trail over the trail. Where it went and what happened in the forty-five minutes of so when the men returned was a mystery?

Never when questioning her as an adult did Estella Ward ever tell Bob how many horses nor did she describe the cannon to Bob. As a child of 8-years old she was sworn to secrecy. That's unusual for a child to keep such a secret even through adulthood. Two horses could pull a 6-pound cannon with carriage and without a caisson up, over and down a sandy hilltop trail. That's not a 3,850 pound unit. The forward weight would bear down heavily on two horses. Bob hadn't made this connection between cannon weight and horsepower until several months after his big dig started.

From now my daily or current thoughts are at the end of each post. That's so that we can get back to the nitty-gritty on the missing Cannonsburg cannon first and then you can check my sanity or memory for bugs. My memory is still pretty good, but like all humans sometimes we all make historical mistakes. The same was true for Bob Alcumbrack. His memory was flawed on more than one occasion when researching before he started digging. We weren't sure if his memory failure was accidental or made by faulty dreams. Whenever you do paper searches you always write down information you found and don't trust what you've learned to memory. Its probably the most important information you need before you begin physical labor.

Maggie McCarthy, the wife of cannon hunters, Harold and Matt McCarthy thought Bob had gone a little daft when he was telling her the size of the cannon. Often times she told Bob he was chasing a mythical cannon, but he refuted her notion it couldv'e been a smaller cannon. She asked him many times 'are you sure its over 9 feet long and will fit inside the coffer box. Bob was sure it was 10 feet below grade and buried in sand rippled with bubbling springs. My mind said, "No way!"

How could the five Cannonsburg men bury the cannon so deep within 45 minutes? Sound familiar? Remember the twin sister cannons of Texas? The five Texans buried the twin cannons, and this a direct historical quote, "so damn deep so fast no damn Yankees could ever find them." If all three cannons had been buried at water's edge they'd all strike water within a few feet and the weight of cannons wouldn't help them sink too fast even if rocks were placed upon the pieces. It is possible that the twin sister cannons no longer exist, because maybe someone else saw them bury them, dug them up and they did indeed go to a recycling foundry.

Bob Alcumbrack believed that since the men were only gone a short time they probably buried the old cannon on the Shoemaker property (1885) now the Luther Augustine property in 1986. He assumed they reburied the cannon where the town elders previously buried the cannon. Why not, the hole was half dug, but how the five men sink it so deep, not in mud along the stream, but in sand and gravel? Remember Fred Thomas wasn't with the five men. He was too drunk on hard cider and his mind and tongue might loosen when in a drunken stupor again. They couldn't chance the discovery of the secret hiding spot again, but Thomas would become a bright "beacon of light" approximately 103 years into the future. Thomas' destiny or collision with cannon hunter Bob Alcumbrack and his crew were written in the heavens long before the modern day hunters were ever born. Treasure hunters, too, should never surround themselves with alcohol drinkers. In drunken stupors they give away silent secrets.

After years of listening to eyewitness accounts of the Tompsett tragedy, Bob thought he had found the first burial site, because of his friendship with John Murray. Murray was 22 years old when he fired the cannon, but whenever Bob pestered and prodded him with trick questions Mr. Murray chose his words carefully so as not to tip off Bob where the cannon was buried. It was Murray's reaction when they took buggy rides down the trail and crossed the footbridge over the small stream that comes down from Pickerel Lake. The stream water was ice cold year-round. So cold was the water it could petrify the human body. Bare the body in Bear Creek as local Indians said, 'You'd be pertrified.'

Murray would stop his buggy horse on the trail's wooden bridge, but not say a single word. Tears streamed down his face, his eyes flooded with eye dew. Murray's eyes filled with tears before they even got to the bridge. Because of this fact Bob felt the cannon was buried closeby. His face was sullen and ash white. Murray at time sobbed, but when Bob asked a question Murray kept silent. Farther away from the bridge his silence ended. Bob thought Murray's body language exposed a silent secret. As Bob said, "You don't get tears in your eyes unless you remember something so bad or good that happened years ago."

Approaching the bridge his face turned sullen, never laughed or joked, just increased sniffling and tears flooded his eyes. Beyond the trail of tears, the better Mr. Murray's eyes improved. Bob spent years with his dowsing rods trying to pinpoint the cannon grave and "X" marked the mystery spot and placed the box atop where his signal readings were the strongest. The secrecy surrounding the cannon's disappearance showed the depth of their grief and respect for Tompsett. The 1885 men took the mystery spot to their graves. The cannon was at peace for 101 years, but the day of reckoning was close at hand 103 years later (1988).

"FLASH," who wrote the community "Cannonsburg Happenings" column for the Rockford Register in 1885 was silenced after Tompsett's death. "FLASH" was my nickname to work partners in 1986, but it's where I started talking. Destiny or coincidence? Bob requested I not inform you what happened to the Cannonsburg cannon until he died. I honored his request and will tell you the final secret, but not today, because you need to see what ends this legend to see if he failed or succeeded. Bob did discover an ultimate secret in 1988, a secret that John Murray and fellow cannon buddies never knew existed. Fred Thomas' grandfather (James Thomas) kept a secret from the original five men who buried the cannon. It lead to the biggest reward of our expedition, but it wasn't found until Bob's destiny collided with the elder Thomas. What do you think was found that lead to our silence?

Well, Bob was sure that Murray was the key to the burial site. Murray's body language; his eyes and where they started to fill with tears, where his voice began to crack and where the tears began to streak his face were indications the cannon was nearby. Murray showed the most remorse and sadness at the bridge crossing. Never did he look sideways, his head forever bowed. Bob's clue was to search on each side of the bridge along the stream. How far in each direction he wasn't sure, but Murray would start talking again the farther they got away from the bridge crossing. Murray's eyes watched the ground beneath the horse and never peered off across the fields. Murray kept his wits.

Bob began his intensive search. The sand bottomed stream below the bridge was nestled deep in a mosquito infested woodland setting now. The muddy bottomland made it a dark search. He searched up and down the creek and found the biggest power spot and "X" marked the spot. He dowsed the spot with his two brass dowsing rods, because electronic metal detectors of 1986 couldn't find brass objects. Brass cannons are non-ferrous meaning they are derived from 90% copper and 10% tin. Bob used nuclear metal range finders to flush out the cannon. He got directional power hits from distant locating and charted where the directional lines crossed. His pair of rods fine tuned the location. This was his most promising spot, but my first impression was "Why would the men bury the killer cannon so close to town in the same hole? Could it be because the hole was already half dug or was it buried fast because of an angry adrenalin rush?

The only reason they disappeared over a sandy hill is because wherever they buried the cannon so fast they didn't want others along the roadways to see the direction or where it was buried deep. If buried so rapidly how could they expect it to stay buried. Someone surely would have been suspicious of disturbed soil in a wheat field or pasture. How could they have buried the cannon in 11 feet of gravel and sand - no muck? Bob assumed they may have simply partially buried or just hidden the cannon from view for burial after Tompsett's funeral and burial?

Bob and crew struck ice-cold water at four feet down. It was a gusher like a burst fire hydrant, the water filling the coffer box within minutes. The bilge pumps labored hard, but eventually Allen Janose, Matt McCarthy and Bob Alcumbrack drew down the water level. Bob with perfect balance walked the planks atop the coffer box, the rods actions showed the cannon's dimensions and directional disposition. He had figured it out to the inch on his diagram designs. Bob's impression was that he found what Mr. Murray's eyes had not shown him. The cannon as within reach, but something was odd. The electronic metal detectors that wouldn't give a signal if brass suddenlyly squealed softly and his mind interupted what he found as meaning the cannon was here below him. Just because Mr. Murray's eyes filled with tears, never looked sideways at the bridge, but stared down at the horse's feet didn't mean that was positive prtoof it must be nearby.

It was possible, but Matt McCarthy and I thought the site nearby was the first burial spot and not the second, but what could make the rods act so favorably. Bob kept walking the oak planks over the watery grave like Captain Jack. What was more strange was the fact that Allen Janose and Harold McCarthy used Bob's rods, too, and mapped out Bob's same dimensions how the cannon was resting. Why couldn't the 1885 men have buried the cannon farther away? It was only one-fourth mile from accident to burial site. Was it because it was Sunday, a day of grief, prayer, reflections and remembranes of Tompsett? Could Estella Ward have simply lost track of time. No information was found about Tompsett's funeral or graveside services. Cannonsburg had witnessed a horrendous tragedy and the cannon's disappearance was silenced forever, or so they thought.

A new town physician arrived two months after the accident. His memoirs stated that when two citizens met on the street, the eyes were on the ground and they never acknowledged each other. He tried desparately to loosen the tongues between 1885-1889 with no success. At church functions people talked to each other, but not on the streets nor in shops and stores. Sadness and depression were everywhere. This proved the depth of the town's sorrow and the gloominess and silence was more than he could stand so he left, went to Grand Rapids and taught surgical skills to interns.


My prayers go out to all those unfortunate innocent individuals who suffered greatly when a Texas man commited suicide by flying his small Cessna plane with 80-gallons of gasoline onboard into that building that houses the IRS, FBI and private corporations in Austin, Texas. His frustrations with the IRS caused severe anguish that lead to his insanity and he took out his anger against the people. This act of domestic terrorism was a home grown incident, but it goes to show what happens when Congress doesn't listen to the people and pass income tax laws on certain classes of people who feel singled out and robbed of their rights to earn a living as self-employed persons. SAD! All this happened partily because of a domestic disturbance with his wife and his festering anger towards the IRS caused the fireball rebellion. TRAGIC! It's even more tragic when media folks file first images of a man that set his house on fire with his wife and child inside. DISGUSTING rumors to glorify the situation. Increasing HYSTERIA is scrambling two military jets to shoot down other would be terrorists so the falling debris will kill hundreds perhaps thousands of other innocents on the ground. How does this LUNACY protect Americans?

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