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Williamsport won't sell its cannons

April 13, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

WILLIAMSPORT - Williamsport's history, in the form of three cannons, is "not for sale," according to Mayor John W. Slayman.

A Pennsylvania artillery museum this month offered the town $30,000 in cash and three iron replica cannons worth $5,000 each in exchange for three Civil War cannons that have long stood in Williamsport's Riverview Cemetery.

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The cannons' hilltop perch overlooks the site near which Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee led his retreating troops across the Potomac River following the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg.

"You can't replace history with something else," Slayman said. "We want the originals to stay in town."

The Town Council in March voted to spend $4,500 to replace the corroded, graffiti-covered cannons, worth $15,000 each, with fiberglass replicas. The replicas should arrive within one month, said Councilman James Kalbfleisch, chairman of the Preserve the Cannons committee.

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The originals are to be moved to the town museum, where they eventually will be restored and displayed, he said.

"We want to keep the cannons in Williamsport for the townspeople to enjoy," Kalbfleisch said.

Bruce P. Stiles, assistant curator of the Civil War Artillery Museum near Pittsburgh, said the cannons in Williamsport have been neglected.

"If they cared so much about the cannons, why did they allow them to get pitted and corroded?" Stiles asked.

Stiles said he first approached Slayman about selling the cannons in May 1998 while working for another museum.

He informed Slayman that the cannons were not directly linked to Williamsport's involvement in the Civil War, but were among "obsolete military surplus" given to towns, cemeteries and veterans at least 20 years after the war.

That may be true, Slayman said, but the cannons have been in Riverview Cemetery near River Bottom Park for years and are now a part of the town's heritage.

Some current and former Williamsport residents agreed.

"You can't put a price on some things," said Brian Leiter, who now lives across the river in Falling Waters, W.Va.

Stiles disagrees.

He said Williamsport could use the money from the cannon sale to build a monument to the townsmen who fought in the war. Such a memorial would warrant more sentimentality than cannons discarded by the federal government, Stiles added.

Interested people would also be able to see the Williamsport cannons restored and on display free to the public at the museum in Venetia, Pa., or visit Riverview Cemetery to view exact iron replicas, not cannons made from "cheap fiberglass," he said.

"We wouldn't even offer those," he said.

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