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Spanish-American War relic near a school? What could go wrong?

April 25, 2012|By John M. Glionna
  • A shell from the Navy battleship Maine sat for years near an elementary school in Deadwood, S.D. Finally, it occurred to city officials: What if it's live?
A shell from the Navy battleship Maine sat for years near an elementary school… (Associated Press )

For nearly a century, the Spanish-American War relic sat near an entrance to an elementary school in Deadwood, S.D. -- a shell from the battleship Maine showing students that history still lived among them.

But recently, jittery city officials began asking themselves a question about the bomb: What if that thing is live?

The question launched the South Dakota community into a frenzy of research that included calling in the explosives squad at nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base, who tested the ordnance -- and found that it was indeed a dud.

But not before the community had a few tense moments.

“That thing was sitting in front of the school way before I got here,” Tim Kosters, principal of Deadwood Elementary School told the Los Angeles Times.  “It sat next to a cannon we’ve had on display here, which you’d see every day as you walked up the front staircase.”

The 500-pound bomb -- which was donated to the city generations ago -- caught attention when city officials decided to move it to a local park for better display. The shell came from the Navy battleship Maine, which sank in 1898 in Havana Harbor. As many as 260 Americans died when the ship exploded and sank.

Since 1912, the ordnance had sat next to a bronze cannon outside the school. Over time, it began to sink into the ground until it was nearly out of sight.

But suddenly, not out of mind.

Officials did their research. They scratched their heads. Then they brought in the local military bomb squad. Last month, the experts took the big armor-piercing round to the city's rubble site, where a small explosive was detonated on the back of the shell.

There was not a correlating boom. The bomb was a dud. But officials said they had to assume otherwise.

“We don't live in a world where we can make those assumptions," Sgt. Jayson Wells, Ellsworth's Explosive Ordnance Disposal team leader, told the Rapid City Journal.

Now, Deadwood city officials plan to unveil the sandblasted, primed and painted shell at its new park home over Memorial Day weekend.

Kosters is glad to see it go. “Schools have weapons-on-campus issues,” he said. “But nothing like this.”


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