Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
There was an explosion in Fairfield Thursday morning that was about 150 years in the making.
A munitions crew from Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, along with the state fire marshal, detonated a Civil War era shell that had been part of the collection at the Carnegie Historical Museum in Fairfield.
The shell — a 3-inch Schenkle shell from the Civil War — was detonated in a specially dug pit at the wastewater treatment plant.
Museum curator Stan Plum said that a while back they started to question some of its Civil War artifacts.
“We had an 8-inch shell that was leaking, so we called the state fire marshal.” Plum said.
The fire marshal came and scoped the shell and determined from the photos that it was stuffed with old newspapers.
To be safe, they decided to scope the museum’s cannonball and 3-inch Schenkle shell.
“The cannonball was solid,” Plum said. “The 3-inch Schenkle shell had had its detonator removed, but the scope showed that there was still wadding in it, and it was possibly full of black powder.
“We determined that it might be a problem.”
Plum first called Gettysburg, where all Civil War munitions were stockpiled after the war.
“Gettysburg referred me to a Marine Corps unit in Quantico (Virginia) with expertise in this kind of situation,” he said.
The hope was that the Marine unit could drill out the explosive black powder and save the shell for the museum.
“I was told to put it in a bucket of wet sand, and I put it in a dark room where nobody went,” Plum said.
Distance and the COVID-19 pandemic nixed the plan with the Marine unit.
Plum decided something had to be done sooner than later after a taxidermist working on restoring the museum’s buffalo head unwittingly used the bucket to stand on while he was working.
“We decided we couldn’t wait to save the shell,” Plum said.
The state fire marshal referred Plum to Scott Air Force Base.
The Air Force crew came to Fairfield Wednesday morning and dug a 15-foot-deep hole at the wastewater treatment plant.
They place the shell in the hole with four pounds of C-4 explosive.
“We moved about 1,000 yards away,” Plum said. “At 11:26 a.m., we pushed the button.”
The explosion shot black smoke high into the air and could be heard all over town.
“We’ve got something exciting happening all the time at the museum,” Plum joked.