Roman coins, bayonets and, most recently, a cavalry sword from World War I, LSU history professors reported several thefts of historical artifacts this spring and during the fall 2021 semester at Himes Hall.
A First World War sword stolen in January belongs to history department chairman Aaron Sheehan-Dean, who is currently serving a year-long post at University College Dublin, Ireland, as a visiting professor of American history.
The sword is about 3 feet long, gray, has a leather wrapped hilt and “Col. Tower” inscribed on it.
“It’s a family heirloom, so it belonged to my great-grandfather. He served in the First World War. He was a colonel at the time, and it was one of the few items that passed to my father,” Sheehan-Dean said. “I remember playing with it as a kid; it’s damaged mainly because we’re playing with it in the basement – my brother and I would do it against each other so the value is really sentimental, although the fact that I’m a historian makes it a bit more acute.
Christine Kooi serves as acting chair of the history department while Sheehan-Dean is overseas. She uses the department director’s office and was the first to notice the sword’s disappearance.
The sword is presumed to have disappeared between the afternoon of Monday January 24 and the morning of Wednesday January 26.
“I know they were there last week on Monday because I was in a Zoom meeting and the camera caught on my shoulder and someone mentioned the sword, but Wednesday morning around 10 a.m., I found out there was one missing,” Kooi said. .
The World War I sword sat next to another historic Civil War sword, although this one was not stolen. Kooi took the Civil War word home for safekeeping.
“For me the mystery is why only one sword was taken but not both?” Kooi said.
Other items in the office appeared untouched, including a brand new laptop worth more than either sword.
In the 30 years Kooi spent at LSU, there was never an apparent need to lock up valuables.
“I won’t feel safe keeping something of value like this,” Sheehan-Dean said. “There was something sentimental and historical about the previous chair as well, so I just assumed that stuff was generally safe, but it’s not.”
History department administrative coordinator Darlene Albritton said the offices are closed at night.
“These offices are permanently locked, so it has to be someone who has the key to the individual offices,” Albritton said. “Let’s just say the building was accidentally left unlocked, but of course my teachers’ offices, and in particular this main office, are still locked.”
Albritton and Kooi believe that the thief of Sheehan-Dean’s sword may have had some form of key access to the office. They are always perplexed by the illogical circumstances of all professors’ missing items and encourage professors to proceed with caution with any items they deem valuable.
“I hope if someone took it and even if it was some kind of prank, they give it back and that will be the end of it. It’s not about money, it’s part of my family’s story,” Sheehan-Dean said.
Other history teachers pointed out missing historical elements. History teacher Maribel Dietz’s Roman coins and history teacher Victor Stater’s World War I British infantry bayonet were stolen last semester.
Dietz first noticed his parts were missing after returning from a long stint working remotely at home. She initially assumed they had been lost in a messy office, but after a thorough scan she concluded they had been stolen.
The coins were made of copper and silver and just like the stolen sword, their value was not measured in monetary terms, but in their historical significance. She said the cheapest was maybe around $20 and the most expensive was maybe $80.
“I taught at LSU for 23 years. I had these pieces with me and took them to class. They are classes of 300 people who run them and I just tell whoever has them at the end, just bring them,” Dietz said. “I’ve never lost a single piece.”
Much like Dietz, Stater can’t exactly determine when his bayonet disappeared from his office. He thinks it was at the beginning of the fall semester. He estimates the value of the bayonet at around $100-150.
“Part of teaching history is to make sure students have a connection to the primary source material, not just me buzzing or their textbook buzzing,” Dietz said.
By having physical pieces from the past, students can become more engaged either out of interest or a better understanding of the material. Something like these could make a general education classroom something a student truly connects with, remembering for the rest of their life.
“It can help students better visualize or connect with a period. To actually have something you can show them that comes from that exact moment. They are useful educational tools,” Stater said.
Theft in LSU office spaces isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, Stater said. What’s unusual is what’s stolen – items with historical value that aren’t worth much financially.
“It’s not uncommon for things to be stolen from people’s offices. More commonly, it’s unattended purses and things like that,” Stater said.
Stater thinks it could just be an “opportunistic crime” – someone who comes across the items and decides to take them. He and Dietz aren’t particularly hoping to get their items back.
“It’s a shame, but my fault I left it on my desk where someone could just grab it. It’s also partly my fault because I don’t lock the door every time I step out of my office. It could have made the difference,” Stater said.
Stater said security cameras around the building would be nice, but he realizes they may not be the most cost-effective solution.