PHOTO: 'Hanging' judge's pin purloined from Arkansas museum

A gold, lizard-shaped tie pin that once belonged to a 19th-century judge was reported stolen from the Fort Smith Museum of History on March 22, authorities said.
A gold, lizard-shaped tie pin that once belonged to a 19th-century judge was reported stolen from the Fort Smith Museum of History on March 22, authorities said.

FORT SMITH -- A tiny gold and diamond stickpin that belonged to legendary federal Judge Isaac C. Parker was stolen Thursday from the Fort Smith Museum of History.

The 1¼-inch-by-1½-inch pin in the shape of a lizard was taken Thursday afternoon from a display case in the courtroom section of the museum.

Museum Executive Director Leisa Gramlich said Friday that she was in that section about 2:30 p.m. Thursday and noticed the display case was slightly moved away from the wall. When she went over to the exhibit, she said she noticed the pin, which had been sitting on a small black velvet pillow, was gone.

Gramlich moved the display case and saw that someone had pried loose a metal plate to which the lock securing the cabinet door was attached, she said.

The museum was busy because of spring break and there was a large number of visitors at the museum Thursday, Gramlich said.

"We are heartbroken that this valuable piece of history is gone," she said. "This is priceless to us and to our community."

The display case contained other items including a Colt revolver, which did not belong to Parker, that Gramlich said would have been of greater value than the pin, but the historic value of the pin outweighed that of the gun.

The Fort Smith Police Department is investigating the theft. Anyone with information is asked to call the Police Department at (479) 709-5000 or (479) 782-7463.

Patrons also have offered a $1,300 reward for information leading to the recovery of the pin, according to a Fort Smith police news release.

Gramlich said the pin had a story behind it.

Before the Parkers were married, a boyfriend had given Parker's future wife, Mary O'Toole, a gold nugget. She sent it off to Tiffany & Co. and it was made into gold and diamond earrings, Gramlich said. After Mary married Parker, she lost one of the earrings and had the other one made into the lizard pin that she gave to her husband.

Gramlich said she didn't know why a lizard was chosen as the shape of the pin.

The pin had been on display in the exhibit for about a year, Gramlich said. Parker's great-grandson James Bailey Parker donated it to the museum in 1990, and it had spent most of the time in a vault. Gramlich said Friday that she wished she had left it there.

The pin was one of only a few pieces of Parker's personal property in the museum's collection. Other items of his were the chair he used in court and some documents and papers signed by him.

A native of Ohio, Parker, known as "Hanging Judge," presided over the federal court in Fort Smith from 1875 to 1896, during which he condemned 160 men and four women to hang, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Of that number, 79 were executed.

His courtroom at the military fort at Fort Smith still exists. It reopened in 2000 after being refurbished. The adjoining jail building also was renovated into a museum. They are part of the National Park Service's Fort Smith National Historic Site.

State Desk on 03/24/2018

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