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U.S. and Coin Dealer Fight Over Rare Gold Double Eagles

Double Eagles, $20 gold pieces minted in 1933 but never circulated, are America’s most fabled coins. In 2002, one surfaced at an auction and sold for $7.59 million. Now 10 Double Eagles confiscated from a Philadelphia coin dealer in 2004 by the U.S. Mint are at the heart of a legal dispute.

More than 400,000 Double Eagles were produced in 1933, but when FDR eliminated the gold standard that year, the coins were ordered to remain at the Mint. (Two went to the Smithsonian and the rest were to be melted into bullion.) Yet over the years several of the gold pieces have cropped up, and virtually all can be traced to one dealer, Israel Switt.

In 2004, Switt’s grandson, Roy Langbord, took 10 Double Eagles to the Philadelphia Mint. Langbord says he was checking on their authenticity. The Mint kept the coins, arguing that they had passed illegally into Switt’s hands. The Langbords contend they were denied their right to due process and a district judge recently ruled that the government must prove that a crime was committed, a difficult task since almost 80 years have passed.

The Mint and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Philadelphia declined to comment, but the Langbords’ attorney Barry Berke says the latest development is “exactly what we wanted. We will now have our day in court.”

Latter-Day Fans Mourn Poe’s Passing

When Baltimore’s Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum celebrated the bicentennial year of the author’s birth (January 19, 1809) with a funeral—two services—there was no pounding of a telltale heart, and there were no gasps about a premature burial. “We treated this like a real funeral,” says Poe House curator Jeff Jerome. “There were some tongues in cheeks, some winks, but this was not camp.” John Astin, known as the dad on TV’s The Addams Family—no snickering!—played it straight as moderater for services that included eulogies by “Alfred Hitchcock,” “Arthur Conan Doyle,” “H.P. Lovecraft” and other devotees of the fright master. The services were held October 11 at Westminster Hall—which shares a complex with the graveyard where Poe is buried—two days after an overnight vigil at Poe House and three days after an 11-hour viewing of a plastic replica of his corpse. When Poe died in Baltimore in 1849, after a rather tortured life, only seven locals showed up to mourn his passing. Nevermore! This time around Poe Funeral Week drew about 1,200 people from such un-gothic places as Bahrain, Japan and Argentina.

9/11 Memorial Opens Online

Images of 9/11 have been burned into the consciousness of all Americans, but more work will be needed to understand all that happened that day. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, scheduled to open in New York in three years, has begun to display hundreds of hours of video, as well as the stories of everyday Americans at makehistory.national911 “We really need to look at this event from a lot of different perspectives, and make sense of it with the passage of time,” says Michael Shulan, creative director for the museum, the memorial and the Web site. “The events struck everyone equally—it didn’t matter if you were the president or a homeless Vietnam vet.” The organization already has hundreds of hours of material, and the stories of many people, but Shulan says, “ultimately we’d like to be the portal to everything that is 9/11. We don’t want to own all of this material, but we want to be the place where people turn to understand what happened.”

A Lost Jamestown Suburb Surfaces

After more than 30 years of suspended curiosity, archaeologist Alain Outlaw has confirmed his hunch about the site of 17thcentury Argall Towne, one of the first suburbs in the American colonies. Outlaw, an archaeologist with a Williamsburg company, Archaeological & Cultural Solutions, discovered pottery fragments, black English flint and lead shot, as well as a ditch system that indicates where the town might have been fortified. Located a short distance from Jamestown, Argall Towne was named for its founder Samuel Argall, a rogue who kidnapped Pocahontas and destroyed a French Jesuit colony on Mount Desert Island in Maine—both in one high-adventure year, 1613. Four years later, as deputy governor of Virginia, Argall settled colonists from England on 300 acres of high ground north of Jamestown, but the entrepreneurial effort fell apart in 1619 because Argall mistreated the residents. Outlaw suspected back in 1975 that he’d found the site, but he couldn’t receive permission to investigate. In 2007, after working at various jobs around the country, he returned to the area, and when the site became public property, he resumed his quest. “After all these years,” he says, “this is pretty amazing.”

American Indian Art Showcased in Kansas City

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., has opened new galleries devoted to American Indian art, nearly doubling the amount of space set aside for these works and making it one of the largest collections in a nonspecialized museum. Showcased in galleries near those featuring the museum’s general American collection, the art is being displayed in a fresh context. “Usually American Indian art is combined with other tribal groups from around the world, or put off in its own place,” says Gaylord Torrence, the founding curator of American Indian art at the museum. “What we’re saying is that American Indian art is one of the great foundations of American culture.”

The Citadel’s “Big Red” Flag Turns up in Iowa

When cadets from The Citadel fired upon a Union supply ship in Charleston Harbor on January 9, 1861—three months before what is considered the beginning of the Civil War—they flew the South Carolina school’s official flag, which bears a palmetto tree and a crescent moon on a red background. Now that flag, nicknamed “Big Red,” has turned up at the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the school is negotiating a loan. “To me the flag is The Citadel,” says Tex Curtis, a retired Air Force pilot and Citadel graduate who has been trying to figure out how the flag wound up in the Midwest. “It isn’t important for slavery and all the politics of the time. This is about a corps of cadets that answered its state’s call to defend Charleston.”

Roy Rogers Museum Comes to Trail’s End

You cannot stop time with a six-shooter. You cannot lasso a bad economy. The Roy Rogers—Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Mo., recently had to close its doors because vacation trips are now a luxury and younger generations no longer come to pay tribute to the singing cowboy Rogers, who died in 1998, and his wife, Evans, who died in 2001. “From our standpoint, we have to be free of it,” said Roy’s grandson Dustin Rogers. “It has cost the family millions of dollars.” The family is hoping to sell the museum’s major assets together for display, including animals—stuffed and posed—that were featured in the troupe: Rogers’ horse, Trigger; Evans’ horse, Buttermilk; and their dog, Bullet.


Originally published in the February 2010 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here