A great gray Navy deck gun appears to be guarding the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum on North Little Rock's riverfront against improbable attack from the Clinton Presidential Center downriver.
Should the museum ever have anything to fear from that quarter, though, the gun would be useless: It lacks a breach block and so is disabled.
But it used to work. The 3-inch, 50-caliber (Mark 22) gun could fire 24-pound shells at a rate of 20 rounds per minute with a maximum range of 8.3 miles, according to a sign posted nearby. It could hit a target 33,400 feet in the air.
It's the type of cannon that the U.S. Navy used during World War II on submarines and on ships like the USS Foss and USS Weaver — Buckley and Cannon class destroyer escorts.
"It's identical to the guns that would have been on those destroyers, but this one was only used for training, it was never on a ship," says Jim Gates, the museum's maintenance chief.
Its provenance is "not really clear," he says, adding that he believes it was used in training at Camp Robinson: "It was set up for training at the Army base and when they stopped training on cannons up there they gave it to the city. It just sat for a long time, and then they wanted to get rid of it. We found out about it and brought it over here and set it up."
It is not an official part of the memorial to the Navy submarine USS Scorpion beside it but it is an appropriate neighbor for the memorial, Gates says. The Scorpion and its 99 crew members were lost at sea southwest of the Azores in 1968.
Visitors seem to enjoy clambering into the gun's two saddles to play the roles of its two gunners, Gates says. One saddle was for the aimer and the other was for the elevator: "One turns cranks that make it go up and down, and the other turns cranks that make it go left and right," he explains.
People also like to hide things in the barrel. A recent visit found a water bottle tucked inside. That's not unusual, he says, adding, "You would not believe what has been down the barrel of that gun."
It has been an attention-getter since it was installed in 2007.
"In fact, I was tightening the bolts down to it when a black SUV pulled up and some Secret Service guys got out," Gates says. They were just checking it out because, yes, it was aimed toward the Clinton Presidential Center. "They wanted to verify that it was nonfiring."
As for the quiz's deliberately confusing Hint 2: Somewhere along that same stretch of shore in 1863, fleeing Confederate soldiers scuttled the CSS Pontchartrain. Its cannon spent a decade in the sand until partisans of Elisha Baxter unearthed it and christened it "Lady Baxter" during the Brooks-Baxter War of 1874. Today it's on the Old State House lawn.
Style on 05/13/2019
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