As It Happens

Sword removed from U.S. Revolutionary War statue returned after 4 decades

The sword was taken from the bronze statue of U.S. Gen. William Shepard, a friend and confidant of George Washington.

A U.S. veteran admitted he took the sword as a prank in college, and it was 'nagging on his conscience'

Left to right: The bronze monument of Gen. William Shepard, the sword that was removed 40 years ago and the replacement sword that was later welded onto the statue. (Submitted by Cindy Gaylord)

Forty years after it was stolen from a historical monument in Westfield, Mass., Gen. William Shepard's sword has finally been returned.

The sword was swiped 40 years ago from a bronze statue in the small western Massachusetts town. The person who took it called Cindy Gaylord, the head of Westfield's historical commission, three weeks before Christmas to say he had "something of historical significance" to the city.

"I could tell it was very difficult for him to talk to me," Gaylord told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Gaylord told the caller to bring back the sword, no questions asked — unless he wanted to tell her the story. 

"At that point, he said, 'Yes, I do, but I want to do it in person,'" she said. "We set up a date, and he and his wife came to Westfield. We met out in my driveway six feet apart, and he sat down and told me the whole story."

The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Gaylord he lived across from the statue in his freshman year of college. He told her about the night he and his roommates thought it would be fun to see if they could get the sword off of the statue.

"He said, 'Since I was the biggest and strongest of the group, I was kind of elected to go up and do it,'" Gaylord said.

He discovered the sword and thought, 'I need to do the right thing. I need to step up and just do this.- Cindy Gaylord, Wesfield historical commission 

Even though it was welded on, he told Gaylord he used "brute strength" to pull it off. When he did, not only did the sword come free, but he too went flying backwards off of the statue and landed on the ground.

According to his retelling, the sword proceeded to go through his shirt and into the ground, just missing his abdomen. 

Gaylord says the freshman and his friends returned to their apartment, went to sleep, woke up the next morning and realized they had defaced public property. In the process, the sword got bent.

Unable to decide what to do with a now damaged sword, he held onto it. Eventually, the sword went back home with him to his parents' house, where it remained for the next four decades.

"He was a veteran also," Gaylord said. "He said it really started nagging on his conscience that here he was, a decorated veteran, and he knew that he had done this terrible thing to desecrate the statue of another decorated veteran."

The man who took the sword lived in an apartment across from the bronze monument of Gen. William Shepard during his freshman year of college. (Submitted by Cindy Gaylord)

Gen. Shepard served in more than 22 battles, according to Gaylord. He was a friend and confidant of George Washington, best known for his role in Shays' Rebellion, where a band of poor farmers took over the U.S. armoury in Springfield, Mass.

Realizing how devastating this could be for a new country that had just gone through the Revolutionary War, Washington sent Shepard to stop the rebellion. 

Gaylord explained that the statue was built in 1918 and erected in 1919 by Shepard's descendants in celebration of Westfield's 250th anniversary.

In the year after the sword went missing, Westfield's historical commission at the time had a replacement made and welded it onto the statue.

Last year, the man who took the original sword discovered it while he was cleaning out his parents' basement.

"He discovered the sword and thought, 'I need to do the right thing. I need to step up and just do this,'" Gaylord said. "Because it was damaged and … the replacement sword has been welded in so securely, it will not be put back on the statue."

Instead, the returned sword now resides at the Edwin Smith Historical Museum in the Westfield Athenaeum, in the same showcase as Gen. Shepard's real sword and other personal items. 

"It never occurred to us to press charges or anything. We are just so delighted to have this back," Gaylord said. "We are very much hoping that other people will be inspired to give — whether it is things they have illegally, or whether they just have things found in attics."

Written by Tahiat Mahboob. Interview produced by Sonya Varma.

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