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A major part of Havre de Grace history will soon be back in action.

The historic cannon dating back to the War of 1812 hero, John O’Neill, has been missing from its perch at the edge of Tydings Park, where it has been on and off since 1914, for some restoration work that began last summer.

Now the project is coming to a close and the cannon will be placed back on its memorial stone with a public rededication ceremony starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 2.

The ceremony will include county, state and local officials, and will include an Army ceremonial band.

A conservation assessment done in January 2009 found that the cannon was in urgent need of preservation. It was then moved to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, in Calvert County.

After decades of exposure to the elements, the cannon was beginning to deteriorate, and most of its original surface has been corroded away, according to the Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, which houses the laboratory.

“When you look at it, a lot of it over the years has lost its natural outside coating,” Marsha Jacksteit, president of the Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse, said.

It has since been soaked and coated with a material to help make the iron resistant to the elements.

Nevertheless, residents will not notice a major difference to the cannon, Jacksteit said.

“It’s going to look exactly like it did before,” she said.

The granite base, with its commemorative plaque, was also cleaned and its iron stains were leached out.

The entire project costs about $7,000, of which the Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse has raised about half.

Jacksteit said the group’s “Save the Cannon” campaign will continue until the cannon is returned.

The cannon marks the site where John O’Neill, the first keeper of the Concord Point Lighthouse, is said to have single-handedly tried to defend Havre de Grace against a British attack on May 3, 1813.

He was supposedly alone in firing the cannon after his fellow militiamen ran away, but he was eventually captured by British forces and was about to be hung as a traitor.

According to the Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse, there is dispute about the extent of O’Neill’s actual heroism that day, but he did become known as the “hero of Havre de Grace” and received a ceremonial sword from the residents of Philadelphia.

The original dedication ceremony, on Nov. 14, 1914, included two of O’Neill’s great-granddaughters.

Jacksteit said the daughter of one of those women, as well as the niece of the other one, will be at the May 2 ceremony.

“It’s really a part of the heritage of the community, for one thing — the story of John O’Neill and his personal stand,” she said. Also, “the cannon is very beloved by the citizens.”

Helen Cayer, a member of the board of directors for the Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse, said Havre de Grace residents obviously care about the cannon.

After it was moved for restoration, “the police got all these calls from people thinking the cannon had been stolen,” she said.

“This is why we would lose this part of history if we didn’t take this effort and do the conservation work,” she said.

Jacksteit said the worker who restored the granite base was overwhelmed by residents sharing their memories of having several generations taking pictures by the cannon or enjoying it in a variety of ways.

“He told me afterward he couldn’t believe how many people told him stories about the cannon,” she said.


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