Auction company removes Civil War soldier's skull from listing
By Rebecca Hanlon | York (Pa.) Daily Record | Published: June 3, 2014
An auction company that had planned to sell a Civil War soldier's skull Tuesday afternoon removed the item from its listing after the U.S. Park Service in Gettysburg called the sale a "spectacle."
Tom Taylor, auctioneer with Estate Auction Company, was not available for comment Monday.
However, the skull, which previously was listed for sale on a public auction website, was removed.
"This item is being donated by the auction company to the U.S. National Park Service," was written below the old listing. "At the auction company's request, it remains as part of the catalog due to its historical value."
News of the possible sale had caused concern among officials in Gettysburg who thought the sale would have tainted the honor of the unidentified soldier.
"Our goal is to respect the memory of those who fought and died here," said Katie Lawhon, spokeswoman with the Gettysburg National Military Park. "These human remains should be buried with honors in the Soldier's National Cemetery."
The human remains were found in 1949 while someone tilled a garden on the Benner Farm in Gettysburg, according to auctioneer Tom Taylor with Estate Auction Company.
Notarized and handwritten documents said the remains, along with 13 other artifacts, were found two miles north of a barn used as a field hospital during the Battle of Gettysburg, Taylor said.
He received the items several months ago through a consignment sale.
According to Brett Wilson, assistant state's attorney in Washington County, Maryland, Criminal Law 10-403 prohibits the transportation, sale and purchase of human remains if they were unlawfully removed.
"It really depends on how these were obtained," Wilson said. "If that part was legal, there's nothing specifically that would prohibit it."
Lawhon said there are two Benner Farms in Gettysburg, and one was known to be a hospital during the war. But assuming the remains weren't found on federal land, then there isn't much officials would be able to do to obtain the skull and other artifacts.
In the 20 years Lawhon has worked in Gettysburg, she's never heard of soldier remains being for sale.
"In the past, there have been humans remains that have come into our possession," she said.
The park doesn't participate in archeological digs, as it believes all the battlegrounds are burial places for soldiers. The only exception would be if remains were disturbed, she said. In 1996, heavy rains along a railroad embankment disturbed human remains that were buried nearby, Lawhon said.
An expert from the Smithsonian Institute found lead splatter on the cranium of the young man, thought to have died in his 20s, she added.
He was buried on what they think was the anniversary of his death based on what battles took place where he was found, Lawhon said.
"If we came into possession of the remains (in Hagerstown), we would do the same," she said.
The sale of a Civil War soldier's skull illustrates the need to preserve places such as Gettysburg, Lawhon said. The reason it was dedicated as a national park was to keep such things from happening.
"I think the right thing to do is get (the remains) to us," she said, "and that's what I hope happens."
Rows of apple trees flank one side of a monument commemorating the wounding of Union Gen. Daniel E. Sickles at the Trostle Farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. The U.S. National Park Service has replanted a 63-tree apple orchard on the farm, where Sickles suffered a severe leg injury during the battle of Gettysburg, on July 2, 1863.