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Historic Oregon Coast Finds Get Attention from PBS Detectives

Published 2008

Historic Oregon Coast Finds Get Attention from PBS Detectives

One of the cannon as they were discovered in February (photo Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)

(Nehalem, Oregon) – [Article from 2008] There's a lot happening with the pair of cannon found just south of Cannon Beach in February. They’re still causing a stir, even months after their unearthing, which caused a flurry of media coverage. They’re getting attention from a national TV show, they’ll be the subject of a public viewing on April 29, and a large group of historical experts has finally been formed to consider the origins of these possibly very significant finds.

The cannon have attracted the attention of the PBS show “History Detectives,” which is visiting the area this week, conducting research, filming and interviewing subjects. Gwen Wright, one of the stars of the Public Broadcasting Service series, has been on the coast this past week with the show’s camera crew, as well as at Fort Vancouver in Vancouver, Washington. They’ve visited with a naval historian there, with historians and archeologists in Cannon Beach and at Nehalem State Park in Nehalem, where the two cannon are being kept in giant tubs of water.

The cannon are stored in large tubs filled with water at Nehalem Bay State Park.

The cannon hold some major implications for the north Oregon coast because it’s believed they may well be the last two cannon left the from the shipwreck whose initial cannon gave the town of Cannon Beach its name. The USS Shark wrecked on the Columbia River Bar in the 1840s, and fifty years later – just before the dawn of the 20th century - one of its cannon was found at Arch Cape, giving the village to the north its moniker.

That cannon is currently housed in the Cannon Beach Historical Museum.

The cannon found this past February were discovered in a place very close to the same spot where the original cannon came from over 100 years ago.

Ghost forest at Arch Cape, which surrounded the cannon before they were pulled out of the sand and taken to Nehalem Bay State Park.

Wright and the TV show have also visited with Miranda Petrone, the girl who originally spotted the pieces of metal sticking out of the sand on a sunny day in February. Chris Havel, a spokesman for Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), has also been the subject of their interviews.

“They’re here filming a piece on the cannon,” Havel said. “They’re shooting right now on the north coast. I don’t want to give away their script and go into too much detail, but they’ve asked us how it was discovered, about their storage and preservation methods, what we know and what happens next.”

Havel said they are being very cautious about forming any firm answer, in spite of the twitching anxiousness of local amateur historians who are quick to conclude the evidence weighs heavily towards these being the from the same ship. There is still the great possibility they’re from another ship, as this exact type of cannon was very common at the time.

The chains of the cannon are still attached, but they are so encrusted in a concrete-like substance they are barely recognizable.

“The cannon are very similar to what was found in 1898,” he said. “But there are a hundred other shipwrecks out there along the north coast. We just don’t know enough to say for sure. We’re still asking ‘What are the origins of the cannon?’ “

This week, Havel and OPRD have announced another date to view the cannon at Nehalem Bay State Park, which has entrances from Manzanita and Nehalem. The next public viewing will be on April 29 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The cannon are sitting in tanks of water there, which draws out the salt while still protecting them from the air, preventing more erosion. “Once a week, we change the water, and can sometimes open our maintenance area to visitors so you can get a closer look at the artifacts,” Havel said on the department’s website.

Cannon in its tub

OPRD has announced the formation of the advisory team to examine the cannon and come up with a plan to protect and eventually display them.

The team is comprised of:

Roger Roper, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Assistant Director, advisory team leader; Dennis Griffin, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, state archaeologist; Jerry Ostermiller, Columbia Maritime Museum; John Williams, Cannon Beach Historical Society and Cannon Beach Mayor; Dale Mosby, Arch Cape Community; Julie Curtis, Oregon Department of State Lands; Greg Shine, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site; Dr. Bob Neyland, US Navy; Cyndi Mudge, Destination The Pacific; Deborah Wood, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park; David Brauner, Oregon State University; Pam Endzweig, University of Oregon, and Dave Eshbaugh of Oregon State Parks Trust.

Stumps at Lost Creek, near Seal Rock, on the central coast

OPRD said the team will look at how to best preserve the artifacts, which could involve paying specialists tens of thousands of dollars to work on the artifacts for a couple of years.

The cannon were discovered during unusual, extremely low sand levels, which happened because of large storm action during the winter. These low sand levels unearthed stumps some 4,000 years old at Arch Cape, and ancient stumps – called ghost forests – at other places like Hug Point, Cape Lookout, Cape Kiwanda, Newport and Seal Rock. These ranged in age anywhere from 1000 years old to 4000 years old. The low sand levels brought out other oddities, such as a mail truck from the 30’s buried in the sand at Waldport, and geologic formations called red towers – surreal objects that look like something out of a Dr. Suess book.

These low sand level events - as much as ten feet lower than normal - also exposed bedrock at Cape Kiwanda and tore out the ghost forest at Neskowin, which is visible year-round. Hotels in Manzanita, Wheeler - Where to eat - Manzanita, Wheeler Maps and Virtual Tours

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