Abby Noland had a very exciting first day on her new job as director of Gleason Public Library. The bomb squad had to be called. While settling in to her new office she noticed a box in the closet. Inside were big rusty metal objects. They also had a label that said they had “been examined by a munitions expert and could be live.” The Seasoned librarian wasted no time and called the cops. “I’ve been a director of libraries for a long time, and this kind of strange stuff just happens.”
After the library was cleared of all patrons, the bomb squad transported what turned out to be Civil War artillery shells that had been used at the battle of Gettysburg. They were taken to an appropriate place, the sand dune behind the Public Works building, and exploded. It appears they had been in the building since 1916. After the commotion was over she joked with her co-workers “If you want to get rid of me, there are more subtle ways.”
Just because the shells had been in the closet for a hundred years did not make them safe. Ms. Noland’s decision to get them out immediately proves she is a quick thinker and decisive administrator. Civil war ordinance does turn up from time to time. When left alone they generally don’t go off but the slightest bump could be enough to make it explode. Sam White came across a rusty cannonball in the woods and brought it home for cleaning.
As he worked to restore the 75 pound ball it exploded. Not only did it kill the man, shrapnel went through his neighbor’s porch a quarter of a mile away. Sam White thought he knew what he was doing because he had done it before, lots of times. He had worked on somewhere around 1,600 different bombs he scavenged for various collectors. The day he died there were 18 more lined up ready to work on in his driveway.
A historical building itself, Gleason Public Library was built in 1894 with money provided by Mrs. Joanna Gleason. It opened for operation on May 13, 1896. Added to in 1973, the building was totally renovated in 1999. Until the remodeling, the Hollis Room held the collections of the Carlisle Historical Society which were moved to their headquarters at the time of the renovation.
Local amateur historian, Dr. Paul Carpenter, did considerable research on Carlisle’s “unbelievably valuable” collection of Civil War artifacts. It is believed to be the biggest collection of items from the battle of Gettysburg outside of Pennsylvania. Originally owned by Joel Albertus Danner, the collection was part of a museum at the battlefield predating the visitor center. When Danner closed and sold his museum at the end of the 19th century, the collection was split into three parts. One of the three went to Massachusetts but the records didn’t say where. They ended up in Carlisle.
Washington Irving Heald bought the relics from Danner and had them shipped. In 1915 he donated the entire “priceless” collection to the town. Stored in boxes, the collection sat in the third floor “historical room” until finally displayed in 2002. There are 109 items in the collection, of which about half are artillery shot and shells.
“Artillery was in transition from the Revolutionary War to what would be World War I,” explains Carpenter. The collection of artillery is one of the finest because it represents virtually all of the artillery used in the battle. Two Whitworth cannons which had been stolen from a British ship and used at Gettysburg were also part of the collection.
Various items were displayed in the library reading room and others were “stored in the library eaves until the library renovation in 1999. At that time the collection was stored off-site and in 2001 the library gave temporary custody of the collection to the Carlisle Historical Society for display in Heald House.” Gleason Public Library Trustee Steve Golson says, “the collection is of national significance. It is well known among Civil War historians as the first major Gettysburg collection. One third of it is at the Gettysburg Museum at the battlefield and one third of it is here.”
Poor storage and handling led to the deterioration of the items over the years. in 2013 the library started restoration of items in the collection and storing them under proper conditions. Now under care of the Carlisle Historical Society, the artifacts are rotated on display.