The cannon that fired on the Free State Hotel during the sacking of Lawrence has lived a long, full life during the Civil War era in Kansas and Missouri. Now, however, it sits destroyed — a giant hole ripped through its side — in the Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass.
But that cannon, called “Old Sacramento,” could have a new lease on life soon.
Kerry Altenbernd, Lawrence native and Kansas history buff, has plans to reconstruct an exact replica of the cannon that could be fired to celebrate events, such as upcoming Kansas Day, parades and historical re-enactments.
The original cannon has a long tradition with Kansas Day: It was fired in celebration the day Kansas officially became a state Jan. 29, 1861.
It was originally used in the War with Mexico by Missourians before being placed in the public square in Liberty, Mo. In 1856, Old Sacramento was brought to Lawrence by pro-slavery men who used it to fire on the Free State Hotel, which would later be called the Eldridge House.
Several accounts state that Missouri Sen. David Atchison fired the first of about 30 shots. But being somewhat drunk, Atchison fired the shot up and over the hotel. In the late 1880s, a cannonball was found imbedded in the soil of Illinois Street that is said to be from Old Sacramento.
In 1975 Steve Jansen, then-director of the Watkins History Museum, made a deal to obtain Old Sacramento for display, said Brittany Keegan, acting curator.
“We’re not exactly sure how it wound up in the museum, but we’re just glad it’s here,” she said.
Old Sacramento was cast in bronze, and Altenbernd said recreating it out of that same material could carry a hefty price tag upwards of $20,000. He has organized a group called The Old Sacramento Cannoneers Association that plans to seek out other interested individuals and funding for the project.
He said he has already begun researching foundries across the country that could recreate a working replica of the cannon.
“My basic idea was why not make a new one because the old one can’t be used,” Altenbernd said. “It would be very significant. My only regret is that we didn’t do this a couple years ago so we could use it this weekend and fire it on Saturday. But better late than never.”