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Parks Dept Gives Deep Glimpse Into Oregon Coast Artifacts


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Secrets of the Season

Oregon Coast Relics Gone in Three Months Without Preservation Methods

Cannon sits in a tub at Nehalem Bay State Park

(Nehalem, Oregon) – Oregon State Parks and Recreation held a special photo opp on Tuesday for media and some locals, showing off how they’re storing and dealing with the historic cannon that were found earlier this month.

A crowd of nearly fifty gathered at Nehalem Bay State Park at noon on Tuesday as state officials let media get a closer look at the two objects that have caused a stir around the nation, and explained a bit more about what will happen next.

Officials said it may take as long as two years to complete the restoration, and that without current preservation methods, they would fall apart in three months.

While officials like State Parks spokesman Chris Havel called their origin “possibly” from the same ship whose first lost cannon gave the north Oregon coast town of Cannon Beach its name – a tremendous historic find if proven to be true – they admitted the coincidences were striking. The official word is nothing is official yet, but even they are amazed.

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“These were found in the exact same area as the first cannon,” said Shelley Parker of the parks department. She and other state officials note the dimensions of the first cannon exactly match these two new specimens, conceding that so far everything points to these being the two missing cannon from the USS Shark, from which the first one fell.

A variety of intriguing details spring forth on closer examination

The Shark wrecked near the Columbia River in the 1840’s, a mere two years after it was launched to do surveys of wartime American shores during the Polk administration. Its cannon was found washed up in 1898 in what is now Arch Cape, a tiny village just south of the tourist hotspot Cannon Beach, giving the town its name.

That cannon is currently on display at the Cannon Beach History Center (corner of Spruce and Sunset in Cannon Beach. 503-436-9301).

Cannon is lifted into tub at a state park after being dug up from the beach (photo Chris Havel)

The cannons are covered in a thick layer of natural concrete: the product of the metals working with the salination of the water over time beneath the sands. Havel said it will take a lot of painstaking peeling off of each layer. There are polished stones embedded in the concretion, and the shape of the cannon are barely discernible through the black casing.

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“Estimates are this process could take six months to two years,” he said. The process could involve various chemical and even electrolysis processes.

Havel and Beach Ranger David Woody gave glimpses into what it’s taking to preserve these artifacts now. As Havel was talking about the various historical entities, state agencies and experts that would come together on this project, the plastic tarp was taken off the two large tubs containing each cannon in a slightly dramatic manner.

Woody said the objects have been buried beneath 10 to 20 feet of sand – the amount of sand that is currently missing from that area of beach because of massive winter storm action.

The cannon are immersed in fresh water and covered in burlap, to keep the parts sticking out of the water wet as well. This helps preserve them from corrosion and quick deterioration after decades of being in an oxygen-free environment.

“They would fall apart in three months without this method of preservation,” Woody said.

Once a week, the tanks are drained and then refilled.

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Tub is drained of water during the press conference

Havel said State Parks had to call on various cannon preservation experts around the country for advice on this. Now, the department has been advising some of the state archeological experts and preservationists. These groups will be meeting with local historical museums, such as the Columbia Maritime Museum in Astoria, and the Department of State Lands, putting together a team.

“We’re all going to work together to decide what the next step is,” Havel said.

Julie Curtis, with Oregon’s Department of State Lands, said her department has been meeting with state archeologists, State Parks and cannon experts – and they’re working very slowly. “We’re in new territory here,” she said. “We’ve never done this before. We’re learning as we go.”

Cannon on the day of discovery in late February (photo Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)

The Department of State Lands technically owns the cannon because it was determined they were found on beach land under their jurisdiction.

The idea is to eventually put these on display for the public.

Parker talked about some of the more exciting developments since the cannon were found over a week ago. “One very big find was the presence of the wooden slides,” she said. These are the platforms the cannon were attached to so they could move during recoil from firing .

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A portion of chain from the cannon makes a particularly interesting find, also encrusted

Parker said the iron could start developing this concretion within a year of being immersed in sand. “Ironically, what had protected it before now causes further corrosion.”

When the USS Shark wrecked, none of its crew were lost, said Parker. The crew left an indelible mark in the Astoria area. They built a series of shacks to live in which were eventually called “Sharkville.” When the crew moved on, new immigrants to the area took over those shacks as dwellings.

The cannon are a type known as a caronnade, which wasn’t used very long in the first half of the 1800’s. They were more accurate up close, much less so far away, but they did pack a sizable, destructive punch.

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