Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 102

Upon the death of Walter Tompsett in Cannonsburg all those who witnessed the terrible accident swore themselves to a solid vow of silence for eternity. Nary a whisper of community news came from Cannonsburg for over two months. Food and Christian fellowship was the only mention of festivities at area churches where they greeted each other with respect, but they never talked about the accident, where the cannon went or anything connected to the tragedy.

September 1885 saw the arrival of Cannonsburg's new physician and surgeon. Ooh, had he gone to Cannonsburg first instead of Kent City, Mr. Tompsett would be alive today, but disabled. Instead he found the townspeople locked in extreme grief, sadness and depression. The depth of their sorrow and depression was so great it eventually forced him to leave Cannonsburg in 1888. He couldn't stand the silence. He tried unscuccessfully for three years to find out what happened to the cannon, but left to teach surgical skills in Grand Rapids. Never would anyone comment freely. Cannonsburg had become a secret driven community and the people never talked about Walter Tompsett or his survivng family members again.

Fred Thomsas and his grandfather James Thomas were often questioned for information concerning the cannon's disappearance, but both denied to answer. It was if their jaws were wired shut.

Fred was absent when the five men buried the cannon, but township people believed that James Thomas might have told Fred. James was highway commissioner and road builder when Tompsett was killed and it was he who told the senior township officials where to bury it the first time. Unfortunately he didn't keep quiet and his grandson Fred overhead James and Fred's fahter John talking and figure it out where it was buried. Fred though was still being pestered so badly by outsiders that he met a woman from Ionia, Michigan and married her. He left Cannonsburg and spemt the remainder of his life in Ionia.

James it seems didn't worry much about spillin' the beans, because he was severely injured around 1892 when the logging chain he was using to remove a tree stump during road construction snapped strking him in the head causing a severe concussion. Many tried plying him with intoxicating liquor to trick him into answering, but his short-term memory prevented him from forming an intelligent answer. He'd often say "What was the question again?"

At the Pioneer Founder's Day picnic in 1886 in Thomas Hall nothing was ever said about the previous Fourth of July celebration that claimed Walter Tompsett's life. It was if the accident never happened. The only news was that Rena Tompsett had married Mr. Andre of Cannonsburg and that they moved to Grand Rapids. Being a widow with a young son she had to find a man who could take care of them both.

I unlike Bob always assumed that the Tompsett family with the town elders and Dr. Patterson had taken to heart what the Federal government recommended. The old post Civil War era cannons were made of junk metal. "Destroy, bury or recycle, but get rid of them!" Liability claims were on the rise across America. According to government statistics almost 250 men were killed and thousands injured so badly they couldn't work during 1865-1892. Something had to be done to stop the carnage. Those firing the cannon never had any military training. According to government sources it was customary and traditional to bury peace-time non-military individuals (private citizens) killed by malfunctioning cannons in a single grave, alone by itself or within the same grave below the coffin. Military personnel may not be buried with occupant, because such cannon was government property. Gift cannons from private individuals to town and village people were exempt.

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