Civil War, World War I munitions detonated following discovery at Deerfield museum

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 09-14-2023 11:08 AM

DEERFIELD — What began as a search to find an item to supplement an exhibit at the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA) turned into something potentially dangerous on Monday.

While looking for an architectural piece related to an old doorway being show at the museum, Front Desk Manager Tom Mershon came across an uncovered wooden box in the basement of Memorial Hall with something that museum Executive Director Tim Neumann said “looked like a giant bullet,” along with some other, smaller objects.

Upon conferring with Curator Ray Radigan and board of directors Vice President Richard Holmes, who both have experience in military museums, PVMA promptly called the Deerfield Police Department to report it had Civil War and World War I munitions in its storage room.

“It’s sort of an odd story,” Neumann said with a laugh, adding that you often see news stories where these unexploded munitions sometimes become active. “Not only do they blow up, sometimes they catch on fire. We don’t want Memorial Hall to burn down, so we were on top of it.”

Deerfield Police came to check out the more than dozen items in the box.

“We didn’t want to create a scene because it turns out it’s been in the museum since World War I,” Neumann said.

Upon arrival, Sgt. Harry Ruddock inspected the box and called the State Police Bomb Squad to evaluate the items, according to an email from Deerfield Police Detective Sgt. Adam Sokoloski.

Neumann said the State Police Bomb Squad performed some tests on the items and determined they were still potentially dangerous. Police made accommodations to safely detonate the explosives at Trew Stone/All States Materials Group in Deerfield.

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“They said, ‘We cannot assure you that this is harmless,’” Neumann said. “So, we said, ‘Take it away and destroy it.’”

The Deerfield Fire District and South County EMS were also on site on Monday afternoon to help the bomb squad.

Neumann said the box was in a storage area they don’t typically go into and the items have not been on display since he began working at PVMA 47 years ago. At one point, though, at least one of the items was on display because it had a numbered exhibit tag on it.

“I think the problem, with museums as old as ours, is you don’t know all of the history of the pieces; you know who donated it, but not who accepted it,” he said, adding the event brought “a little excitement” to their Monday.

In the wake of PVMA’s discovery, Sokoloski emphasized the importance of informing public safety departments whenever residents discover something in their homes that may be dangerous.

“The Deerfield Police Department reminds members of the public never to hesitate to give us or the Fire Department a call if you come across items from the past that could be dangerous,” Sokoloski wrote in an email. “We will contact the proper people to make a further evaluation, and help with disposal. It is best to leave them in place, not bring them into the Police or Fire Department.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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