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Man Hopes To End Half-Century Search For Killer Cannon

July 13, 1986

CANNONSBURG, Mich. (AP) _ Cannonsburg’s cannon, buried secretly by town elders 101 years ago after it killed a man during Fourth of July festivities, is about to be unearthed, says a man who has hunted for it for nearly 50 years.

Using a metal detector, Bob Alcumbrack found a cannon-shaped metal object 11 feet down in sodden ground on property owned by his parents.

Alcumbrack, 57, said last week that after months of digging and pumping out water he was 3 feet and perhaps a few days from finding if his work has been for nothing.

″I’ve got to emphasize that I haven’t seen it,″ he said. ″But all indications are it’s there.″

″Everyone hopes he finds it,″ said Ed Donahue, owner of Donahue’s County Market. ″He’s been digging so long some are losing confidence, but most people believe he’s found it.″

″It would really be representative of Cannonsburg,″ said Molly Mankel, 20, the local blacksmith’s daughter.

Alcumbrack resumed digging Sunday after receiving long-awaited replacement parts for an old pump used to remove water that has repeatedly filled the hole, said his mother, Ellen Augustine.

″There have been so many problems, he’s not going to say when he’s going to get to it,″ Mrs. Augustine, 82, said of her son.

″I’ve been looking a lot of years, probably close to 50,″ said Alcumbrack, who first heard the legend of the cannon when he was a paperboy in this tiny, unincorporated village 35 miles northeast of Grand Rapids.

″It was a pretty lively story around town, but it varied quite a bit,″ he said.

Cannonsburg, part of rural Cannon Township, is named after New York financier LeGrand Cannon, a landowner who laid out the village in 1848, according to the book ″Michigan Place Names.″

Cannon donated the ill-fated artillery piece to the village, and it was fired at July Fourth celebrations, according to a local history book.

On July 3, 1885, safety-minded town leaders buried the cannon, but a group of young people unearthed it the next day and began firing it during the traditional celebration, the history said.

Tragically, the gun’s ramrod was fired into the leg of William Tompsett, 26. He died from loss of blood on July 5.

″The cannon was again buried in secret by the villagers and to this day has not been found,″ said the book.

Mrs. Augustine said one of the men who buried it once lived on the land she and her husband own.

″I always kind of thought it was on our property,″ she said. ″There were six or seven men that buried it, and they swore they’d never tell.″

Alcumbrack, a maintenance man at a Grand Rapids factory, said he began his detective work as a boy by badgering the people who buried the cannon.

″The last one died when I was 13,″ he said. ″One guy told me it was north of town. I looked everywhere. I looked in logical places, like swamps and ponds, gulleys, sinkholes. ... I finally bought a metal detector three years ago.″

He found the buried cannon-shaped object in late 1984, and began digging last year. He had hoped to unearth his find by July 4 last year, but struck an underground spring that collapsed the hole.

Using the old pump and aided by residents, Alcumbrack has been slowly moving mud and water from a wide hole surrounded by mosquito-ridden, dense foliage about one-fourth of a mile from a country road.

If his effort pays off, Alcumbrack plans to put the cannon in front of the town post office.

″The cannon just grew to be part of me,″ he said.

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