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Help preserve 200-year-old cannon at Cranbrook

February 12, 2013

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Visitors to the Cranbrook Institute of Science next week will get the chance to help restore a piece of Detroit history by cleaning rust off of this 200-year-old British cannon.

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — The Cranbrook Institute of Science is preparing to bring a piece of Detroit history back to life — and the institute needs your help.

From Feb. 18-22, members of the public are invited to join in conserving a more than 200-year-old cannon discovered in the Detroit River two years ago by the Detroit Police Dive Team. The cannon bears the monogram of King George III of Great Britain, and according to CIS exhibits technician Karl Mayry, was likely dumped into the river when the British retreated from America in 1796.

Mayry said that since the cannon was pulled from the water in 2011, it’s been stored at the Detroit Historical Museum. That is, until five months ago, when the institute came into possession of it and began efforts to conserve the artifact. Since then, the iron weapon has been sitting in a massive acrylic tank of sodium carbonate with an electrical current pulsing through it, slowly pulling negatively charged chlorine ions out of the cannon and gently loosening accumulated rust.

“So far, so good,” said Mayry of the treatment known as electrolysis. “That’s phase one. The next phase is we’re going lift the cannon out of the water and give the general public a chance to help clean this thing.”

Since 200 years’ worth of dirt and rust takes a little bit of elbow grease to clean up, the institute is asking visitors to help with the restoration process. During the school’s winter break, guests of the museum will be armed with small brushes to gently scrub away debris left on the cannon.

“We’re going to have a lot of little toothbrushes from the dollar store, and we’ll be using bottles to spray the cannon and keep it moist,” said Mayry. “We’re going to be taking this 1,320-pound cannon out of the bath that it’s been soaking in and we’re asking the public to help us clean it manually.”

He added that, once the rust is removed and more of the cannon is revealed, it will then be coated in a solution of tannic acid to prevent further corrosion, and lastly, a layer of microcrystalline wax will seal and protect the artifact.

The Save the Cannon activities will take place 1-4 p.m. daily Feb. 18-22 and April 1-5 to coincide with school breaks. While the cannon’s not being cleaned, visitors can watch it undergo electrolysis in the tank, which is displayed for the public. Mayry hopes the cannon will be ready for its final acid treatment in May. The restoration effort, along with the institute’s “Extreme Deep” and “Dive Deep” exhibitions, are free with museum admission.

“We try to make the experience at Cranbrook as hands-on as possible. The cannon restoration is a great opportunity for our visitors to participate in the actual science of preservation and help save an important local relic,” said Michael Narlock, head of exhibits for CIS, in an email.

For information on the Save the Cannon effort and other museum attractions, visit or call (248) 645-3200. The Cranbrook Institute of Science is located at 39221 Woodward Ave. in Bloomfield Hills.

About the author

Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki covers Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Franklin and Bingham Farms along with Birmingham Public Schools, Oakland County Parks and Recreation and Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center. Esshaki has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2011 and attended the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Oakland Community College.

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