The Office of the State Fire Marshal bomb squad deals with many strange, dangerous objects in the regular course of a day, but finding a cannonball designed for naval warfare in Bel Air was a bit odd, even for their work.
Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire said the office responds to plenty of cannonballs found around Maryland, but why the naval-specific round was found in Bel Air is a mystery. Maryland has a long history of military testing, and with Aberdeen Proving Ground situated in Harford County, finding ordnance is not unheard of.
“This particular naval shot, how it ends up in Bel Air, we may never know,” he said.
Alkire said the office was notified of the cannonball at 10:07 a.m. Tuesday. A man had been collecting scrap metal at an address on the 200 block of Broadway in Bel Air when he found the cannonball, which he took with him. He thought it looked a bit suspicious, so he contacted the Bel Air Police Department for guidance on what to do.
“When he made contact with Bel Air Police Department, they politely told him they did not want it on their property,” Alkire said, so he drove it to Rockfield Park.
The cannonball is known as a bar-shot — two shots joined by a solid bar and designed to shear masts off of ships, Alkire explained, immobilizing them for another volley of cannon-fire. The round appears to date to the 1800s, he said.
Dan Coates, president of the Archaeological Society of the Northern Chesapeake, said that cannonball’s provenance is hard to determine. Several furnaces in Baltimore and Cecil counties made them during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. Still, it is possible the cannonball had not been made in the U.S. at all.
As to how the cannonball ended up in Bel Air, that is anyone’s guess, but Coates theorized that many shots were scattered by invading forces so they could not be used, explaining why they are found in unlikely places.
“When you have invading forces that find these cannonballs stored at foundries, it is a conundrum because they do not fit their ordinance, so they do not use them, they are too heavy to transport,” he said. “So they have got to get rid of them.”
The man who found the cannonball followed proper procedure, Alkire said, of the “three Rs”: recognizing a suspicious item, retreating to a safe distance and reporting it to authorities.
Bomb technicians were able to determine in less than 30 minutes that the round was inert using an X-ray machine, he said.
Though an oddity for the area, and a relic of naval warfare, the office does not plan to keep the cannonball.
“Our bomb technicians take possession of it and they will properly dispose of it at a later date,” Alkire said.