January 7, 1998 in Nation/World

Two Charged In Theft Of Civil War Artifacts John Brown’s Rifle Among Items Worth Millions, Sold For $8,000

Jeffrey Brodeur Associated Press
 

A janitor at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is accused of stealing John Brown’s rifle, Gen. George Meade’s sword and hundreds of other Civil War-era relics worth up to $3 million and selling them to a collector for a few thousand dollars.

In the last decade, Earnest Medford, 48, sold more than 200 such items to George Csizmazia, the FBI said Tuesday.

The two men were charged with theft of major art. They could each get up to 10 years in prison. They were released on $100,000 bond each.

At a news conference, authorities displayed a table loaded with 19th-century swords, rifles, gunpowder boxes and uniform items.

Artifacts taken included a sword given to Meade after the Battle of Gettysburg and a rifle used by the abolitionist Brown during his 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

U.S. Attorney Michael Stiles said the case represents a theft from every American.

“They educate us in ways that books and mere words cannot,” Stiles said of the artifacts. “We must do all we can to protect them.”

Medford met Csizmazia when the electrician did work at the historical society, according to court papers. Csizmazia paid Medford $7,000 to $8,000 for the items, which were worth $2 million to $3 million, the FBI said.

The society, which has a collection of about 12,000 items, did not notice anything missing until November, when an inventory revealed that a rifle made in 1780 and four swords, including the $350,000 Meade blade, had disappeared.

“This is a very emotional day for all of us at the historical society,” said president Susan Stitt. “We are shocked and saddened that one of our own, a 20-year staff member and good friend, has been charged.”

The FBI was led to Csizmazia, 56, after they visited a collectors show in Richmond, Va., and learned a dealer had been approached by a collector with a sword that may have been from the society’s collection.

The dealer later identified Csizmazia, who admitted receiving items from the museum, according to court papers.

A search of his home turned up the artifacts, most of them wrapped and stored in closets or under beds, the FBI said. Although about 100 items are still missing, agents don’t believe Csizmazia sold any of them.

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