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Dr. Boom

A local Civil War re-enactor brings out the big gun for the 1812 Overture


There aren't many musical compositions that call for the firing of weapons. Certainly the most famous is Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, an exercise in volume that calls for about 26 cannon blasts.

For patriotic concerts this Sunday and Monday, the Compton Heights Concert Band has recruited several cannoneers to help out with the Overture.

Civil War re-enactor Randy Baehr (captain of Company M, the 1st Missouri Light Artillery of the Turner Brigade, Missouri Volunteers, U.S.) will once again open his garage and roll out the small trailer containing his cannon to participate in the commemorative barrage. His cannon, a reproduction of a 19th-century model, weighs about 1,000 pounds and has a 43-inch barrel. Baehr transports the cannon on its base, which has 42-inch wooden wheels. He says that a crew of five men moves and tends to the weapon.

Like most of the re-enactors, he doesn't actually pack ammo into the weapon, just black powder that is sealed within a packet of aluminum foil and shoved down the barrel with a muzzle-loading rammer.

One of the weapons handlers (who wear earplugs) pulls on a long string called a lanyard, which fires a shotgun shell to ignite the blast. The cannon shoots a column of flame and a lot of white smoke into the night, and the report is concussive. Baehr reports that the Overture requires seven or eight cannons, each of which must be fired three or more times.

"Because the guns are removed from the bandstand area a considerable distance, they have a separate conductor for us," explains Baehr. If you plan to check out the cannons during the show, he adds, don't come anywhere near the business end.

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