Earlier this month a woman named Lynne Godfrey, visiting Sitka from Utah, was beachcombing on John Brown’s Beach when she found what appeared to be a missile. She took a picture and showed it to the Coast Guard.
She showed us the picture, too, and Raven Radio listeners have looked at the image and commented on our Facebook page about what they think it is. Maybe it’s the top of a missile. Maybe it’s from a fishing boat. Maybe it’s the top of a radio antenna. “A brick would fly better than that thing,” one person wrote.
Well, whatever it is or not could be determined sometime Wednesday, by an ordnance disposal team from the Air Force. They’re going to take a look and if it’s stable, move the object to the Granite Creek quarry, where it could be destroyed. If it’s unstable, they’ll have to destroy it right there on the beach.
Police are asking residents to keep their distance from both locations – the quarry up Granite Creek Road, and the beach at the north end of Japonski Island – and have issued notices that the area near the quarry will be blocked off while the work is going on.
But wait, there’s more. While the military experts are here looking at the missile, they’ll also destroy a half-dozen cannonballs – that’s right, cannonballs – being held by the police.
“They’ve been turned into us by different residents who have found them in various locations around Sitka,” said Sitka police Lt. Barry Allen. “Any cannonball we get ahold of, we destroy. We’ll have those guys destroy. They use a small shaped charge to crack it in half, basically. You find out very quickly whether it’s got live explosive inside, because it’ll go off.”
He says this isn’t the first time the police have needed to dispose of cannonballs.
“I want to say it was a good two years ago now we disposed of some place around another half dozen,” he said.
Allen says it’s hard to tell how old the cannonballs are – they’re pretty rusty, a lot of them – but Bob Medinger, executive director of the Sitka Historical Society, says it’s possible some of them could trace back to when Russians were in Sitka, in the early-and-mid 1800s.
“They were fired off not only in direct battles with the Tlingit but also at other times during our Russian history,” Medinger said. “And particularly in the 1804 battle, lots of them were flying around.”
Medinger says he's not an ordnance expert, but by the time the Americans took possession of Alaska in 1867, weaponry was starting to advance beyond cannonballs. What Medinger does know for sure is that some of the cannonballs found in Sitka before have been dangerous, and unstable.
“If anybody finds these or have them sitting on a shelf, or grandpa has it in a trunk, hidden away, you really need to check in with the fire or the police department and have them checked,” he said. “They seriously could be dangerous. And if not, you’ve got an amazing artifact.”
Allen, with the Sitka police, says “you can’t really tell, unless you can X-ray the cannonball, because after they start corroding the solid shot looks just like the ordnance that has actual powder or explosive in it.”
And for that reason, police will be asking the public to stay well clear of the ordnance disposal team’s activities.
© Copyright 1970, Raven Radio Foundation Inc.