Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon- 33

Bob Alcumbrack never saw himself as a treasure hunter, and yet, hunting for the lost Cannonsburg cannon was his wildest dream. Finding a rare cannon is an ultimate treasure, but finding them buried live or sabotaged is a deadly combination. As you've previously learned from Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon (21) the search didn't end as planned because Mother Nature interrupted the destiny of Texas' twin sister cannons.

The hostile weather of Texas had pushed the old iron cannons to the point of "debilibus, fractis, putridis et perusitatis" meaning they were 'weak, broken or worn out' in military language and were destined for a recyle foundry soon. Six Texans took it upon themselves after discovering them on a railroad flatcar to make sure no Yankees were going to destroy them at a northern foundry. They'd stayed in historical Texas. They've been lost for 145 years and the Cannonsburg cannon for 103 years.

Weather had changed history in 1865. Texas and southern states have hostile environments such as hurricanes, drenching rains, tornadoes and excessive heat. All these weaken cast or wrought iron cannons and the amount of rust decay causes them to prematurely discharge or explode killing the artillerymen and soldiers servicing the gun instead of attackers.

It took 300 years of mistakes to learn that the depth of engravings; crests, seals and decorations on cannons from outside of America made cannons weaken fast. Extreme weather had left Sam Houston's Twin Sister cannons in such bad shape after 29 years of use they simply were too deadly to fire unlike those made of bronze. The twin sisters were not worth the price of powder or shot, but the Texans wanted to retain their glorious heritage and buried them. Trouble they buried them in memory and made no visual maps. Bob didn't let the fact he didn't have one physical piece of evidence stop him from trying to dig up the Cannonsburg cannon. In fact, the failure at his first big dig site drove him to overcome his shortcomings and press onward and over the next two years the "weather changed the course of history again."

Bob didn't stop looking for his wildest dream when he failed to find the cannon in 1986. The presence of all those hot rocks of magnetized stones had to be dealt with, so in October 1986 when all the crowds had left we began another search using sophisticated technology widely used today in paranormal entertainment.

Bob knew from dowsing that the Cannonsburg area was littered with hot magnetized stones. Tungsten and iron ore deposits caused metal detectors to go nuts and his dowsing rods reacted unfavorably to increased fluctuations of electromagnetic energy fields is association with leys and electromagnetic energy power spots. He had to find out how to descriminate between hot rocks, leys, power spots and buried objects. He could actually use dowsing rods and successfully found many brass objects that were tossed or lost by early pioneers, but Bob was adamant he wouldn't fail again. Before he started digging in 1986 he had already found two other possible burial sites, but before we started the second dig in summer 1987, the crew had to be sure Bob was using the dowsing rods to the best of his ability.

We wasted no time and on the darkest October nights we climbed ladders high into the trees and from rooftops and canvassed large expansive areas with infrared photography. Infrared film by Kodak in total darkness would light up any object that held a heat source. This was our X-ray of Cannonsburg without lead aprons protecting us from radiation. The film was developed and slides set back for our analysis. Kodak instructions said we had a 69% chance of documenting ghosts on the film. The thought of catching ghosts or spirits on film was something Bob wasn't sure he wanted to see, but the infrared film could document the extent of iron or brass debris buried subsurface or underground. Bob didn't want to be known as a ghost hunter and he surely didn't want to find Tompsett's ghost loitering around Cannonsburg on dark nights. It proves to be a valuable tool when treasure, err, cannon hunting.

We spent a few nights in Spring 1987 sitting in Allen Janose's basement eating bowls of popcorn while we tried to decipher our infrared photos. When asking Kodak scientists to read the film they abstained and said we were the only ones who could understand what it was we were looking to find. Some slides sparkled with hot images -- hot magnetized stones, but few objects. This sphere of science was new, but at least we learned that the Cannonsburg area has some strange geological areas. We did find any ghosts!

During the winter of 1987-88 we tried our hand at using high altitude infrared thermal imagery, but El Nino did its best to halt our investigations. In the dead of winter we'd hoped to map out iron and brass items buried deep underground. Objects hold a heat source or signature and infrared thermal imaging from 10,000 feet could pinpoint buried objects. To use infrared thermal photography the ground must be covered at least one foot deep in snow and to our dismay snow that year never got that deep. It was always melting away. Without snow, the frost goes deep into the ground making the objects colder and not warmer. One foot of snow insulates the ground from excessive cold. In fact, the continued El Nino weather changed history and we couldn't get an accurate fix on the Cannonsburg cannon, but no matter because in 1987 Bob found a clue to the cannons existence and within months I finally placed a visual image in Bob's mind - the size and description of the cannon.

What infrared thermal imaging showed was that Cannonsburg like England had an excess of iron ore deposits everywhere, but at least we knew what Bob had to dismiss. He knew he had to find a bronze cannon whose age placed it somewhere between 1450-1750. Cast bronze and brass cannons were made exclusively during those years, but in sizes smaller than 6-pound field pieces. Brass cannons were less like to explode after repeat firings of up to 140 times per day. Bronze was 90 parts copper and 10% tin, but history of cannon founding shows us that some substitutions of metals or deviations from standard Old World founding methods and using scrap recycled metals was strictly a politcal problem whose roots sprang to life during the reign of King Henry VIII, the King of England 1509-1547. Bronze was a non-ferrous metal and electronic metal detectors couldn't find it before the 1990's. Bronze dowsing rods were the answer.

Brass cannons were cast before Kings and Queens at special ceremonies, but King Henry's craftsmen cut corners and began substituting cheap metals when required metals were in short supply. Fraudulent craftsmen made cast cannons using lead, then pouring iron or bronze over them concealing the leaden bore chambers. After repeat firings or when firing ceased, the hot guns were reloaded, but if orders were to halt firing, the hot bore's leaded chambers constricted (melt). When these guns were fired, the constricted bore choked the cannonballs causing the cannons to explode, the flying debris killing all those servicing the gun. Hardened bronze and iron don't soften. Quality control wasn't the issue. Bad craftsmen were stiffing King Henry and taking kickbacks for cheap lead. When royalty didn't pay their bills for shoddy workmanship according to contracts and agreements, the master gunfounders were fleecing the King. These fraudulent cannon makers were sacrificing the lives of their countrymen to line their own pockets with the Kings money. Self-gratification was more important than lives lost.

King Henry VIII had a bad habit of not paying cannon craftsmen during his reign. He didn't care about those who sacrificed their lives and limbs to produce cannons. The king gave knew meaning to the phrase "penny-pincher." King Henry wanted good cannons cheap and although he signed contracts agreeing to the terms of craftsmen he had the bad habit of not paying as agreed. In 1512 King Henry had enough guns 'to conquer hell.' Pasqualigo, the Venetian Ambassador in 1515 told the King the Tower of London had 400 bronze cannons mounted on the finest carriages. Over the years the King stiffed many craftsmen, but his greed got the better of him when in 1545 he received word that his large order of cannons was ready and waiting on the docks at Glasgow, Scotland. King Henry's life was altered "when weather changed history" here, too. The unthinkable happened.

Instead of sending two ships to lessen the loads, the King sent one large Tudor naval vessel called the Mary Rose. She was heavily laden with too much wrought iron ordnances and sat low in the water, but on her return trip to England she encountered a fierce rainstorm off Portsmouth, England. She plunged into a large trough with open portals. The gigantic waves swallowed her sending her straight to bottom carrying new muzzle-loader cannons for castles fortifications. The Mary Rose was outfitted with newest wrought iron breech-loaders with bar barrel rings for disassembling when moving. They belched fire from segments, not just vent and muzzle. Each were 7 feet 6 inches long with a 5 inch bore and shot stones. They were cheaper than cannonballs. Remember open portals is what sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald, too. The iron ore weight sent her straight to bottom. It snapped into three pieces and rests beneath 8 feet of silt. The Mary Rose disaster drowned Sir George Carew and 400 sailors.

British archaeologists using sophisticated underwater cameras have found the Mary Rose, the cannons littering the bottom wreck strewn with the skeletal remains (skulls) of the sailors who perished when the vessel plunged straight to bottom.

King Henry VIII cut corners to save money, but instead of sending two ships to lessen the overburdened weight of too many ordnances, he lost most of his bronze guns, too. The Brander Inventory of 1547 reported that King Henry had only 64 brass guns and 351 iron guns. In 1558 England had lost 1,300 cannons when engaged in the Battle of Calais, France.

King Henry was a dysfunctional King. He couldn't manage his military affairs any better than he could manage his six wives (1521-1547). He was obsessed creating heirs and was impulsive and grew impatient when things didn't go his way. He was a 'panther' for the opposite sex. His wives, one son and two daughters would give a clue to the discovery of a cannon caught in a commercial fishing net off the coast of Virginia in 1983. This was an unpublished cannon story until 1988 or so. The cannon was reputedly tied to Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony expedition during the reign of Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Mary, Queen of Scots. Time Americans learned about our Old World roots. Continued...

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