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Stolen WWI gas mask found in pawn shop

Jul. 31, 2014 - 04:07PM   |  
Photograph of the gas mask, storage can, and collection tag from our eBay listing where the item was rediscovered.
Photograph of the gas mask, storage can, and collection tag from our eBay listing where the item was rediscovered. (Photo courtesy Presidential Pawn Shop)
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Pennewill Collection tag that remained with the stolen gas mask for more than 90 years. (Photo courtesy Presidential Pawn Shop)

CHEYENNE, WYO. — A World War I gas mask stolen from the Wyoming Capitol and missing for almost a century is on display in Cheyenne again after a South Dakota pawn shop donated it back to the state.

The German gas mask originally got to Wyoming by way of U.S. Army Sgt. Robert O. Pennewill, who served in the war. The gas mask was part of a large collection of World War I items displayed in the Wyoming Capitol in the years after the war.

Records show some of the items were stolen either while they were being displayed or stored elsewhere in the building in the 1920s, according to Wyoming State Museum officials.

Now, 100 years after the outbreak of World War I, the gas mask is the Wyoming State Museum's artifact of the month. It remains in outstanding shape.

"It's surprising, considering it's been out on its own for so long," Wyoming State Museum manager Helen Louise said Thursday.

Museum officials said they recently got wind that Presidential Pawn in Rapid City, South Dakota, was selling the old gas mask on eBay. A tag on the gas mask is labeled "Pennewill Collection" and indicates it was found in the Belleau Wood in northern France.

Presidential Pawn owner Chris Johnson said his shop often buys and sells historic military items and acquired the gas mask in April from a man who'd owned it a long time. He estimated its value at $300, but he said he took down the eBay posting immediately after hearing from the museum in May.

"Any time we hear that something has been stolen, it gives us a little bit of a sinking feeling," Johnson said. But he added that he was pleased to be able to donate it to the Cheyenne museum.

"You can't put a price tag on giving something back to the rightful owners," Johnson said.

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