Where are the Arch Cape cannon now? (2012)
If you’ve ever leaned back on a grassy patch (at your favorite state park, naturally), watched big puffy clouds slipping past, and imagined them as turtles, dragons, and pirate ships … congratulations. You, too, have what it takes to unearth honest-to-goodness Oregon mysteries.
Oregon teen Miranda Patrone, with her imagination (and father) in tow, hit the beach in 2008 and saw a misshapen, rocky blob the size of a St. Bernard partially buried in the beach sand at Arch Cape. Other people were there, but they didn’t see what she saw: the lump had an odd, cannon-like shape and streaks of rust weeping from between the rocks.
And a cannon it was. Park staff swung into action with help from the community and archaeologists and rescued the object from the beach. Another visitor—Sharisse Repp—soon found a second rock-coated lump on the same beach. A crowd gathered while the crew tended to the find. The nearby town of Cannon Beach earned its name thanks to an 1846 shipwreck of the USS Shark, a military vessel that broke apart on the Columbia River bar some 70 miles north. Chunks of the Shark’s wreckage floated to Arch Cape, including a portion of the deck bearing three short cannon called carronades. One weapon was recovered in 1898. The beach took the other two and hid them away, as beaches do.
Two cannon, lost in the 1800s. Two cannon, found in 2008.
Even as park crews moved both safely from the beaches, everyone wondered: are they from the USS Shark? Maybe. Archaeologists don’t earn their scientist badge by jumping to conclusions. The cannon were completely coated with a concrete-hard layer of rock. The truth lay beneath.
After consulting with the US Navy and a team of local partners, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department hired experts from Texas A&M University’s Nautical Archaeology program to start the long, careful process of removing the cannon from their rocky prison. The beach protected the cannon well. Salt and air feast on iron, and removing the rock shell would put the artifacts in peril. Working a millimeter at a time with tools resembling pencil-sized jackhammers, Texas students and their mentors are removing the outer coating. Using chemical baths and electricity, they pull salt off the metal surface. It takes years.
To date, they have removed the rock from both cannon. Damaging salts have been removed from one cannon, while the other is still soaking. After the salt’s gone, the metal parts will receive a fresh coat of corrosion-proof, tarlike paint. Wood, leather, rope and other types of artifacts were also found inside the shell, and are being put through their own chemical treatments to armor them against decay. Marks on the surface of one cannon prove it was of English manufacture, a common occurrence in the early 1800s when ships like the Shark entered service. In a couple years, the cannon will be ready for a return journey from Texas back to Oregon, where they will be put on display by a museum that hasn’t yet been selected for the honor.
Are they truly from the USS Shark? When the archaeologists finish their work, we’ll let you know. Until then, just use your imagination, and enjoy your next walk on the beach.
More Arch Cape cannon background & photos