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Archive for October 14, 2008

Cannon might be from 1846 wreck of USS Shark

Research done on one of the two cannons with possible links to Fort Vancouver by the “History Detectives” TV series indicates it most likely came from the USS Shark, which wrecked in 1846.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Two cannons with possible links to Fort Vancouver have had their 15 minutes of fame. Next comes the long, dirty slog of restoration.

A tub containing a historic cannon believed to be from the USS Shark is shown at Cannon Beach, Ore.

A tub containing a historic cannon believed to be from the USS Shark is shown at Cannon Beach, Ore.

Research done on one of the cannons by the “History Detectives” TV series indicates it most likely came from the USS Shark. The U.S. Navy schooner was wrecked in 1846 near the mouth of the Columbia as it sailed from Fort Vancouver toward the Pacific.

Production of the PBS episode included a visit to the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, where chief ranger and historian Greg Shine provided some background on the Shark, which was launched in 1821 at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard.

The cannon investigation was one of three segments on the episode aired recently by Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“I was very impressed with what they were able to do within the 15-minute time frame. It can be a challenge to take a story as all-encompassing as the story of the Shark, then hone it into a segment the public can understand,” Shine said.

The show enlisted some impressive research help, including a high-powered X-ray machine that sees through layers of concretelike crust.

They also brought in Bob Neyland, head of underwater archaeology with the Naval Historical Center, who now is a member of the cannon advisory team. (A few years ago, Neyland helped recover a Confederate submarine that sank during the Civil War.)

At the end of the segment, host Gwen Wright told 14-year-old Miranda Petrone that the cannon she and another girl found probably had been on the Shark. The cannons were recovered in February at Arch Cape, Ore.

Chris Havel, with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission, said the TV show certainly moved the project forward. He is coordinator of the cannon conservation project.

“Having Bob Neyland come out and see them firsthand, and looking at the cannon with X-rays — that would not have happened without History Detectives,” Havel said.

There is plenty of work to be done with the short-barrelled cannons known as carronades. A Web page on the Oregon Parks site notes that the gunk-encrusted barrels don’t look much like cannons at all: “More like big, blobby rocks,” it said.

For now, the cannons are sitting in tanks of water, which draws out the salt, protects them from the air and prevents further corrosion. The next step is finding a professional artifact conservator to peel away the rocky concretions, restore the cannons and return them to the Northwest for display.

“We don’t know how long it will take, and not even the people who will bid on the job have a guess,” Havel said. “I’ve heard it can take two, three, four or five years to get them into shape.”

As the crust is removed, the restoration experts might find a serial number, foundry mark or a date that could link the barrel with the Shark. Remnants of the gun carriage could offer more clues.

“Learning the type of wood might help us figure out where it was made,” Havel said.

For now, the recent focus on the USS Shark and its carronades has helped generate interest in regional history.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people who watched the episode and are interested in the story of the fort’s involvement,” Shine said.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company