Cannon firing tradition given green light to return

The cannon in Bailey Park may soon once again return as part of Windmill Days. The village board approved its firing this month.

“We’re going to fire the cannon.”

Village President Lance Van Damme made that declaration after the Baldwin Village Board gave its blessing to the return of a tradition — the firing of the cannon in Bailey Park at the start of the Windmill Days Parade.

A request was made at the May meeting of the village board to return to the tradition, which dates back many years, according to John Veenedall who has either been firing or helping to fire it for a long time.

The tradition ended several years ago when the cannon allegedly broke a window in the building across the street, something Veenedall disputes.

The cannon “fires” wadded shredded paper, using a two-ounce black powder charge. Veenedall says the effect is like confetti coming out when the cannon is fired. He doubts the cannon could have hit the building across the street.

“It’s a long way to go,” he said.

Veenedall says the cannon is loaded from the front, placing the powder, which is in a plastic sandwich bag inside aluminum foil, all the way back in the chamber. A drill bit is used to puncture the bag inside the foil and the bit is left in place until the cannon’s projectile is loaded. A foot of dry paper is packed into the cannon. Damp paper is then placed inside to create a good seal around the inside of the cannon. A good seal is key to a successful firing, Veenedall says.

After the cannon is loaded, the drill bit is removed and replaced with a fuse. The fuse is lit and if everything has been done properly, “it makes a pretty good boom,” Veenedall said.

Veenedall has been involved in the firing of the cannon for many years. He got involved after his wife’s late uncle, Don Somsen, asked if he wanted to help. Veenedall has been storing the back powder at his house, waiting for the tradition to return.

Now that it is returning, he is looking forward to passing the duties and his knowledge on to someone else. Van Damme has expressed an interest in learning how to shoot the cannon.

The cannon is solid brass and has been fired at the start of the parade until the window incident occurred. Veenedall said the cannon disappeared for a year before the village anchored it in its current place in Bailey Park. The cannon’s barrel is capped to keep people from depositing items inside the cannon and will be removed by Public Works Director Brad Bolt a test firing of the cannon in the coming weeks to make sure it fires properly.

Veenedall says firing the cannon is a fun task, getting it set properly, lighting the fuse and “letting it blow.” A proper seal is essential for a successful firing and Veenedall says he has “had a few fizzle” if some of the powder goes off prematurely.

Veenedall is pleased the tradition is returning and wants parade attendees to know “it’s coming back!”

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