Thought this was a good place to post this piece of news.
January 13, 2004
Navy Relic Returns Home
Sword Stolen in 1931 Is Back at Academy
By Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post Staff Writer
The ship is now better remembered than its captain, but both changed the face of naval warfare at Hampton Roads, Va., on March 9, 1862.
Navy Lt. John L. Worden suffered a head wound from Confederate cannon shot as he led the USS Monitor against the CSS Virginia (originally called the Merrimac) in a four-hour standoff between the world's first two iron-plated, steam-powered war vessels.
Worden, who survived his wound to become the seventh superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, enjoyed a flicker of renewed fame yesterday as the FBI announced the end of a 73-year-old mystery. It has recovered a missing sword awarded to him by his native state of New York in recognition of his valor.
The 37-inch-long ceremonial sword, designed by Tiffany & Co. with a silver hilt depicting Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, and a gold scabbard with an inscription praising Worden's "gallantry and skill," was stolen from the academy's memorial collection in 1931. Despite an intensive investigation, it remained missing until the FBI began to investigate the dealings of three appraisers on the PBS television show "The Antiques Roadshow" in 1998.
According to Jeffrey A. Lampinski, special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia division, the break came when a family that had owned the sword since the 1930s offered to sell it to one of the appraisers. The appraisers worked by understating the value of an item, the FBI said, purchasing it on the cheap and then selling it to collectors for its actual value, which could be as much as 10 times the price they paid.
Lampinski said that after one of the appraisers bought it, it was sold to a collector of Civil War artifacts. The collector, unaware that he was holding stolen property, voluntarily returned the sword after he was contacted by the FBI, Lampinski said.
Lampinski said that the appraisers were indicted on federal charges, including mail and wire fraud, and were convicted and ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines. He would not name the family or collector in question. The original thief or thieves are almost certainly dead.
The Worden sword "is part of our history and heritage, and should be on display," Lampinski said. He declined to estimate the value of the sword -- which cost $550 in 1862 -- but another Civil War sword made by Tiffany & Co. fetched $250,000 a few years ago.
"If you read about this in a novel, you wouldn't believe the plot," said an ecstatic Scott Harmon, director of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. "I perhaps read too much Tolkien -- this is 'The Return of the Sword.' " ("It doesn't take us much to get excited," he added.)
Capt. Charles J. Leidig Jr., the academy's commandant, stood at attention as Lampinski formally returned the sword. The men shook hands as cameras flashed, illuminating a room ringed with old naval uniforms, medals and paintings of sea battles.
"Sir, thank you very much," Leidig said. "We are proud to have it back."
For a handful of midshipmen assembled to watch the proceedings, the return was only slightly less meaningful; most didn't even know the sword was missing until a few weeks ago. But Worden is a daily presence in their lives. Their parade ground is known as Worden Field, and they all learn about his exploits commanding the Monitor in their naval history classes.
Eric Scherrer, a fourth-year midshipman, saw a clear connection between Worden and his classmates. "We really see a legacy," he said. "We walk in the footsteps of all the great officers that walked before us."