Sam White got hooked on the U.S. Civil War early, digging up rusting bullets and military buttons in the battle-scarred earth of his hometown.
As an adult, he crisscrossed the Virginia countryside in search of wartime relics - 19-century weapons, battle flags, even artillery shells buried in the red clay. He sometimes put on diving gear to feel for treasures hidden in the black muck of river bottoms.
But in February, White's hobby cost him his life: A cannonball he was restoring exploded, killing him in his driveway.
I think what's missing here is a little critical thinking--what would possess someone to take a grinder and try to "clean up" an artillery shell?
Experts suspect White was killed while trying to disarm a 9-inch, 75-pound naval cannonball, a particularly potent explosive with a more complex fuse and many times the destructive power of those used by infantry artillery.
Biemeck and Peter George, co-author of a book on Civil War ordnance, believe White was using either a drill or a grinder attached to a drill to remove grit from the cannonball, causing a shower of sparks.
Because of the fuse design, it may have appeared as though the weapon's powder had already been removed, leading even a veteran like White to conclude mistakenly that the ball was inert.
The weapon also had to be waterproof because it was designed to skip over the water at 600 mph to strike at the waterline of an enemy ship. The protection against moisture meant the ball could have remained potent longer than an infantry shell.
Brenda White is convinced her husband was working on a flawed cannonball, and no amount of caution could have prevented his death.
"He had already disarmed the shell," she said. "From what I was told, there was absolutely nothing he had done wrong, that there was a manufacturing defect that no one would have known was there."
After White's death, about two dozen homes were evacuated for two days while explosives experts collected pieces from his collection and detonated them.
It took TWO DAYS to remove the unexploded ordnance from his home--a sign that, at least to me, this guy was up to his eyeballs in something that, frankly, should have been illegal. His "accident" could have killed others. Shrapnel from the explosion that killed White sent pieces of metal flying up to a quarter of a mile from his home. I mean, really. Was it worth it? To put on a diving suit and pull a cannonball up out of the water?