Historical Society donors want their relics returned
A North Carolina woman who says artifacts loaned to Marietta’s Campus Martius Museum in 1967 are still missing is now urging support for an Ohio widow in a similar battle.
Dorothy “Dottie” Low, of Reynoldsburg, is in a legal tug-of-war with the Ohio Historical Society over an archaeological find that originated in Parkersburg, W.Va., 73 years ago.
“I read about Dorothy Low’s lawsuit in an Ohio archaeology magazine and knew I needed to help her if I could,” said Nancy Ford, 49, of Patterson, N.C..
Ford and her mother, Thelma Queen, 83, are facing their own issues with the historical society after OHS apparently lost a set of Adena artifacts the family loaned to the Campus Martius Museum back in 1967.
The Low lawsuit was originally filed in 2009 by Dorothy’s late husband, Ed Low, in an effort to recover a carved stone tablet he had dug out of a hillside in Parkersburg in 1943, then loaned to the Ohio Historical Society in 1971 after moving to Reynoldsburg.
Ed was 12 years old when he discovered the tablet that had been etched with two human faces. It was only after doing some research in preparation for the lawsuit that he discovered it was an Early Woodland Adena artifact dated between 1,000 and 400 B.C.
“When the suit was filed he had no idea how old the tablet was or that it was really valuable,” Dorothy, 64, said last week. “The stone was only precious to him because he had found it as a boy. For years he just kept in his sock drawer.”
The tablet had been appraised at $200,000 by the OHS in 2007, but Dorothy said the museum had never informed her husband of the relic’s value or age.
After a visit to Parkersburg in 2007, Ed learned about the city’s Blennerhassett Museum and decided it would be nice to place the tablet on display in that facility which is located near the site of the stone’s discovery in 1943.
Dorothy said her husband went to the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus that same year and asked to have his tablet back. But museum representatives claimed it belonged to the society and OHS had given Ed a free membership in exchange for the tablet.
Ed refuted that claim and filed suit for the artifact in 2009, although he had no documentation to prove his ownership.
“Ed always insisted he didn’t sign anything when he took the tablet to the historical society in 1971,” Dorothy said. “It was basically an agreement made over the phone that he would leave it with them just for research. He knew it would be kept in a safe place and would be put on display for the public. But they basically confiscated it.”
Ed died in 2010 before the suit had been settled, but Dorothy picked up the torch and continued the initial lawsuit through February 2012 when a Franklin County Court issued the ruling that the tablet belonged to the Ohio Historical Society.
She appealed that decision and won her appeal in December 2012, but OHS has now filed to reverse the appeal, asking that the entire case be dismissed. Dorothy said she’s now awaiting another court date to be set.
“This is not over. I’m never going to give up,” she said. “That tablet meant everything to Ed and it’s my goal to get it back to Parkersburg.”
Ford said Dorothy Low should not have to face this issue alone.
“It’s wrong when someone, out of the kindness of their heart, loans an artifact to a museum and then can’t get it back,” Ford said. “The only reason Ed Low loaned the tablet to the museum was because it was such an unusual find.”
She has lent her support to Low’s cause on her Facebook page where Ford keeps a running account of the latest developments in Low’s case as well as her own efforts to retrieve several Adena period artifacts that were originally lent to Marietta’s Campus Martius Museum.
The artifacts were unearthed by her grandfather, Ernest Sutton, while excavating an Adena mound, known as Rogers Mound II, in the Coolville area where the family lived in 1966. The site was one of five mounds within a 60-acre area on a hill overlooking the Hocking River.
Sutton died in the late 1970s.
Among the discovered artifacts were a pipe used for smoking; two partial human skulls; a larger bowl used for eating, and a smaller bowl; a gorget that was worn around the neck; a bone pin; two awls; and a spear tip.
The artifacts had an estimated value of $10,000 in 2003, Ford noted.
“They were on display at Campus Martius from 1967 until sometime between 1985 and 1992,” she said. “It was during that time that my brother took his son to see the items our grandfather had loaned to the museum and discovered they were no longer there.”
Museum officials told Ford they have thoroughly searched Campus Martius for the artifacts but have found nothing.
A former museum manager said the artifacts could have been misplaced when items from Campus Martius were shipped to the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus during preparations for the area’s bicentennial celebration. But they haven’t been seen since.
Ford recently sent documents to LeAnn Hendershot, interim manager of the Campus Martius and Ohio River Museums, requesting another search for the artifacts.
“They’re not here,” Hendershot said last week. “At some point those items made their way up to the OHS museum in Columbus, and where they went there, no one seems to know.”
She has forwarded Ford’s request to OHS.
“All we can do is pass the requests on to them,” Hendershot said.
Ford said Hendershot has been very helpful in the quest to locate her grandfather’s items.
Lesley Poling, registrar for OHS in Columbus, said another search would be conducted for the artifacts being sought by Ford and her mother. She would not comment on the Low case because it is still in litigation.
Ford said her grandfather, who also taught at Salem College in West Virginia, was an amateur archaeologist, but kept meticulous records of his findings, and worked closely with OHS officials during the mound excavations.
“So I have plenty of documents that describe the artifacts and where they came from,” she said. “I also have a small scrap of paper that was signed and dated by Juanita Etters (a former secretary at Campus Martius) that says the artifacts were loaned to the museum.”
Ford said there’s been little correspondence to indicate how much effort the historical society has put into the search for the artifacts.
“My mother did receive a letter from an Ohio Historical Society attorney saying they couldn’t find our artifacts, but if they did they’d be sure to let us know,” she said.
Hendershot noted the tracking of items loaned to the museum is much improved since the 60s and 70s.
“We can’t accept permanent donations-those have to go through the Ohio Historical Society,” she said. “But loaned items, like those in the current Civil War exhibit, require documentation that states the length of the loan and that it goes back to the original owner at the end of that time.”
Hendershot said the local Friends of the Museum group have developed a loan agreement form that all parties must sign before the loan of any exhibit items can take place.
She said a value must be assessed on the items so they can be insured during the exhibition period.