On the morning of April 21, 2009, a local homeowner arrived at the visitor center at Fort Smith National Historic Site in Arkansas with the best of intentions but the worst of plans—he was carrying an old cannonball he'd dug up in his garden.
Ranger Jeremy Lynch, the park's historic weapons specialist, recognized the object as a six pound cased shot (fragmentation ball) with what appeared to be a rusted but still intact fuse.
Old unexploded ordnance of any age can be unstable and is potentially dangerous, so this was not a great way for the park staff to begin their day. The good news from a safety and incident management standpoint is there were no other visitors in the park buildings or on nearby grounds at the time.
Fort Smith police were called, park staff were evacuated and a perimeter was established to keep people at a safe distance until the situation was resolved. The city fire department bomb squad arrived shortly thereafter and confirmed that the cannon ball might be "live." The bomb squad removed the object from the park and will arrange to have it rendered safe.
According to a report from the park,
The shell was found on the east side of the city on a steep bluff that is now a residential area. The site is well outside the Civil War fortifications that surrounded the town in the 1860's, but there were a number of skirmishes near this area and the bluff would have made a good target for practice.
Since regular readers of the Traveler are a savvy bunch, I'll include the following reminder for the sake of anyone who just happened by this site on a whim: If you find what appears to be an unexploded bomb, cannonball or similar object of curiosity, just let it be, ask everyone to leave the area, and notify the proper authorities. This is a good time to apply the "better safe than sorry" rule.
The clincher in the story at Fort Smith confirms that not everyone is aware of the above advice. The homeowner told park employees that he had taken his five kids to school that morning with the old cannonball rolling around in his van.