Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

February 8, 2011

UPDATE: Ordnance removed from Mennonite archives at college

GOSHEN — A World War I grenade and two inert artillery shells were removed from the historical archives of the Mennonite Church USA Tuesday morning.

The grenade and shells were found by an archivist in a box of items donated back in the 1990s by Ralph Singer, who served with a Mennonite relief mission in France after World War I.

“He presumably came back with some souvenirs,” said Rich Preheim, Historical Committee director of the Mennonite Church USA.

The church rents several facilities at GC, including part of a building at the south end of the Goshen College campus, adjacent to the Church-Chapel building. That area was evacuated so the Elkhart Police Department bomb squad could move the grenade and shells using standard police protocol for such items. All the items were placed in a small box that once held paper for a copy machine.

Preheim said a week ago an archivist for the Historical Committee was going through the committee’s collection when she found the grenade and shells. Preheim said the war items were part of Singer’s collection, which had been donated back in the 1990s, before any current staff members were with the committee.

The archivist notified Preheim about her find and he called the Goshen Police Department. He was referred to the Elkhart Police Department but the intervening snowstorm and off days for police officers and missed returned phone calls created a gap in the response. It wasn’t until Tuesday that officers arrived to take a look at what had been found.

“I don’t know how great the risk was of these things going off,” Preheim said. “Nevertheless, it was nothing we wanted to monkey with.”

The archives houses papers, sermons, diaries and other items relating to the history of the Mennonite Church and its many organizations and members.

“One reason we were going through that box was we have museum pieces,” Preheim said. But the committee’s real focus is on maintaining records, not artifacts, he said.

Besides the records, there are “1,000 personal collections like Mr. Springer’s,” according to Preheim.

He believes the Springer box containing the ordnance had been moved several times over the years.

“It’s quite possible that the archivist here at that time knew they wouldn’t go off,” Preheim said, but he had no records to indicate that.

And Elkhart Sgt. Scott Claybaugh also didn’t have anything to indicate the devices were inert. He donned his bulky protective gear and stiffly walked into the archives and took a look at the items. He then carried them out of the building in the box and placed them in the department’s blast containment cylinder on a trailer near the door.

“I think it probably is (inert),” Claybaugh said after removing his heavy protective gear. “Because it was labeled with wired tags.”

He said one of the items was a “pineapple grenade.” Such grenades were developed by the Defense Department and were first used by American forces during World War I. The deadly devices were given the pineapple nickname because their outer steel surface is cut in a pattern that looks like the surface of a pineapple.

Goshen police later Tuesday said the items found included “vintage artillery,” which had been used for displays in the past. “One item removed was reported to have an artistic drawing on the outside of the casing,” Goshen police reported.

Claybaugh said his squad would take the grenade and shells to its disposal area and blow them up to dispose of them.

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