Friday, August 25, 2017

Man donated Civil War artifacts to Monocacy battlefield. He called police about one rejected item. It turned out to be a live shell

Park was able to keep these artillery rounds, bullets (NPS)

A middle-aged man who lived within several miles of Monocacy National Battlefield near Frederick, Md., called rangers earlier this week. He had a box of artifacts that had been collecting dust for years and he wanted the park to have it.

The staff, interested in using Civil War items to educate visitors – even if they had no firm connection to the 1864 battle – met with him Tuesday and looked at the “very nice collection,” said curator Tracy Evans.

There were a cartridge box, breastplate, belt buckle, canteen, bullets, a cap box, two solid-shot shells -- and one more artillery round that got their attention.

Replica 10-pound Parrott gun (Charles Edward/wikipedia)

They could see the fuse for the 10-pound Parrott rifle shell had been removed, but because of rust and corrosion, they could not tell whether the round had gunpowder. “You are looking for evidence of a hole where it had been drilled (to remove the powder),” said Evans. “That’s when we said we were not sure if it was live or not.”

They told the man they could not accept it. The alarmed collector left and within minutes called police from the parking lot, setting in motion the 90-minute closing of the visitor center and the summoning of a state police bomb squad that detonated the round in a nearby field, Evans told the Picket on Friday.

The technicians used a small amount of C-4 explosives to bust the Parrott shell open.

“The C4 actually ignited the powder that was in it. It was live,” said Evans. Inside the cylindrical  shell was case shot with black powder.

Federal cartridge box among donation (NPS)

Park officials said they believed this was the first time a piece of live munitions had been brought by a layman to this particular National Park Service property.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal told the Frederick News-Post that there is always the potential for a citizen in historic areas of the state to find such an item.

“All the time we hear about someone saying I got this from my great-grandfather and this was in the house when I bought it,” said Evans. Park officials are advising people to be aware of the potential for problems with such ammunition.

A collector may think the round is solid shot, without black powder. “It can be very dangerous,” she said.

Police or other agencies almost always destroy artillery rounds when they get a call. The park's Facebook post about the incident drew many comments critical of the detonation, saying it was a waste of an artifact. The staff had this reply:

“As powder gets older it becomes more unstable. There is no way to know if it would never be a danger or explode even under the best conditions. Considering the lives of staff and visitors as well as the artifacts we house, it is our policy no to accept live projectiles. It is up to the owner to decide if they want to keep or dispose of it.”

Canteen will be shown for educational purposes (NPS)

Evans said the donor was “a very nice guy” who later told them “he always kind of wondered” about the shell’s status.

The park is keeping the rest of the items, including the solid shots. “To have … an actual historic piece really brings it to life to people,” Evans said.

The episode could have even more of a disruption if it occurred one day earlier. About 1,000 people were at the park and visitor center for the total solar eclipse.

Note: The Picket was unable to obtain a photo of the detonated shell

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