Vintage Find in Landfill: A Civil War Projectile

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A landfill employee sifting through the rubbish yesterday for material that could be recycled by St. Mary's County found a decidedly non-reusable piece of scrap -- a 16-inch-long hunk of metal described as a "projectile" from the Civil War.

The 8:30 a.m. discovery prompted officials to evacuate the landfill and call in the bomb squad, said Karen Everett, a county spokeswoman. Recognizing the projectile as military equipment, state bomb technicians called their counterparts at Andrews Air Force Base. Eventually, the projectile was taken to an undisclosed location in the north part of the county and destroyed with explosives, Everett said.

Investigators were not sure whether the bullet-shaped projectile was live, said Joe Zurolo, a Maryland deputy state fire marshal, but they did not want to take any chances, given its age and condition. He said investigators believed it might have contained gunpowder, making it susceptible to detonation under certain circumstances.

"It was in very bad condition," he said of the projectile. "God knows where it's been, how long it's been wherever it was."

The landfill was closed for about four hours, and no one was hurt.

Everett said authorities are not sure how the projectile got to the landfill or how much it was worth.

"We can speculate that somebody didn't know what it was and said, 'This is old, and I'm going to get rid of it,' " Everett said. "Whether it was of value or not, we don't know."

Plez Bagby, a Civil War collector from Charlottesville, said a projectile like the one found in the landfill on St. Andrews Church Road could be sold for $300 to $1,000, depending on its condition.

Zurolo said those wanting to discard old military heirlooms should contact authorities first.

"There's no charge. Nobody gets arrested," he said. "We certainly don't want people to just arbitrarily just have something like that and throw it away in the landfill."

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