- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

CUMMING, Ga. (AP) - Antiquing may not be the first answer when thinking of jobs that come with existential dangers, but when a Cumming woman unknowingly brought a live cannonball into her home last week, that’s exactly what the situation exploded into.

The live artillery that Nancy Haff set on her kitchen table July 9 on Loblolly Lane off Haw Creek Parkway required a few messages to Civil War museums and an awkward 911 call. She took it home on consignment from an elderly woman who also did not know the device was active.

“I went into the sheriff’s office because I really wanted to have a rational conversation in person,” said Haff, an antique dealer and collector, crafter and picker. “I said, ‘Hi, can you please point me in the direction of the bomb squad?’ (The receptionist’s) face just dropped.

“That’s not an easy conversation to have other the phone to 911. ‘Hey, so I’ve got this bomb on my kitchen table.’”

Haff retired almost two years ago after 30 years of financial consulting and has since turned a hobby into a business. She owns Hafftime Antiques and Collectibles and runs three booths at Lakewood 400 Antiques Market.

She said she largely works with items from the 1800s-1930s, but “I don’t do artillery, so this was new.”

During a liquidation job for the woman off Pilgrim Mill Road, Haff said, she started finding themes of items. The woman and her husband had been lifelong collectors, but he died a few years ago so it was time to weed through the collection.

“There was a bunch of rooster and dairy kitchen items, and then we came across a bunch of Civil War stuff,” Haff said. “There was a big cannonball sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace, and she said, ‘Come look at this, want to see? It’s really heavy, want to feel it?’”

So Haff put the 9-pound cannonball in her car, with it rolling along the floorboard before it found its way to the kitchen table.

The elderly woman bought it at an auction decades ago, Haff said. She had told Haff she liked it because it had a nice flat spot so it wouldn’t roll.

That flat spot was a quarter-sized black circle, with a smaller black rectangle on the opposite end.

Her husband, Don Haff, works for the Atlanta Police Department. Those two spots told him the cannonball had a core.

If there’s a core, something could be in there, they thought. Gun powder or shrapnel. But maybe they were markings from a leg shackle.

Nine pounds is an “odd size,” she found in her research. Those large munitions were used by British ships in the American Revolution, though it could also be from the Civil War.

Haff decided to ask an expert.

The Kennesaw Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History recommended Haff “contact your local police office immediately.”

She got the same responses from the nonprofit Civil War Trust and the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Va.

“She sent us a message on Facebook . and included photos of the ordnance,” said Douglas Ullman Jr. of the Civil War Trust. “I’m not an artillery expert by any means, but my first reaction was do not work with this. It’s an explosive device that’s 150 years old, so by its very nature it’s very volatile.”

Ullman Jr. said he has worked for the nonprofit for nearly 6 years and that “this is the first time, to my knowledge, someone has contacted us about something like this. But you do hear stories.”

With three corroborating responses, Haff called 911.

“My husband got home before me, and I knew I couldn’t tell him because he would want to be a hero and save me,” she said. “So I said I’m going to do an errand, but promise me you won’t touch it.”

Three hours later, their cul-de-sac was full with law enforcement cars, a fire truck and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s bomb squad. Some neighbors had come out to watch. Others voluntarily evacuated.

“We weren’t allowed to go inside,” Haff said. “They said it could be up to two days. I figured we’d go to Walmart and get some clothes, find a hotel and see if our house blows up.”

Luckily, that didn’t happen. GBI removed the cannonball and detonated it in a nearby quarry.

And no one was hurt. Also lucky.

Haff said the senior curator she spoke with at the American Civil War Museum told her about 12 people a year die from old war relics they either don’t realize are live or that they try to personally diffuse or handle.

An article he sent her detailed a 53-year-old Civil War buff in Richmond, Va., who was killed when his house blew up while he was working on munitions.

Ullman Jr. said of Haff’s conclusion, “Any time you handle an explosive device and it doesn’t explode, you’re very lucky.”

The Forsyth County fire battalion chief who was on scene told her he had dealt with the situation five times. A nine-pound cannonball with shrapnel can blast up to a quarter-mile, she said.

“I wasn’t worried. It was exciting,” she said. “I’m an antiquer, so it killed me they had to blow it up. I really wanted to go and watch.”

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