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History can have a price tag: “Golden Shovel” returned home

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Solomon Cook
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

A Scott Air Force Base historical artifact was recently in an antique shop and has returned home after mysteriously vanishing more than 100 years ago.

After a store owner reached out to a 375 Air Mobility Wing historian, the item was brought back April 12, 2022.

Mark Wilderman, 375th AMW historian, first received a phone call several weeks ago from Lloyd Francis, an antique collector. From there, he coordinated with multiple organizations which lead to the golden shovel used in the ground breaking of Scott Field Airship Hangar in 1921 to be brought back to its home.

“It was the only shovel used for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Scott Field Airship Hanger, Sept. 26, 1921,” Wilderman said. “The names that are painted on the shovel blade are the names of the directors of the Greater Belleville Board of Trade, which is kind of like the chamber of commerce,” he continued while pointing at the faded and weathered names.

Though this piece of history is iconic, the once pristine ceremonial instrument has endured a less-lavish lifestyle in recent years.

“The whole thing used to be painted gold,” Wilderman explained. “…But they used it as the regular where shovel over the last century. They used it to dig potatoes and work around in their garden. It’s a little worse for wear but it’s an original artifact.”

The shovel’s original purpose in 1921 was at the base Airship Hangar ground breaking ceremony. Immediately after the event it went missing and moved around to an untold amount of places. From there, it ended up in an antique store in Bourbon, Missouri.

“It came in with a lot of things from a family in rural Missouri,” Wilderman said. “We're not sure if their relative was the one that removed it from the base headquarters a hundred years ago, or if it just happened to end up in their family...”

After Wilderman found the location of the shovel, he started the request process through the 375th Comptroller Squadron, 375th Contracting Squadron, and finally, the Secretary of the Air Force’s office to ensure all things were legal and within regulations. This led him to be able to buy the artifact.

During this time, this Scott artifact could have been lost to history as it was still up for sale in the antique store.

“It took a couple weeks, and meanwhile, this was on hold and could have been purchased by anybody walking in the store, but Mr. Francis kind of put it aside for us while I worked out the arrangements,” Wilderman said. “A couple weeks later, I got an email saying ‘You're good to go. The Secretary of the Air Force approved it for one time purchase.’ We had our front office card holder call the antique store and we paid with our Government Purchase Card. The next day, I drove over there and got it.”

With the new addition to Scott’s historic collection, Wilderman plans to procure a case for the shovel and place it on display near an airship hangar model in the Lighter than Air Museum at Scott.

“This shovel has been accessioned to the national collection and it's going to be on permanent loan to Scott Air Force Base because of its association with us,” he concluded cheerfully.

As the saying goes history is often priceless but in this case, Scott history was purchased and returned to base for $250 at an antique store.