Tony Tracy often scrolled through Craigslist searching for historic collectibles and antiques. One day in August, he stumbled upon an artifact and called his wife over.
“I turned to my wife and said I can’t believe I’m looking at this,” said Tracy, director of the Douglas County Historical Society in Superior, Wis.
In a picture posted by a seller in Eveleth, Minn., Tracy recognized an eagle clutching a swastika. It looked like the same 3-foot chromium World War II trophy he had noticed in a scrapbook of old clippings donated by the Carver County Historical Society in Waconia.
The Superior Telegram clipping said the historical society in Superior originally received the Reichsadler emblem in the 1940s from a general who brought it back from Germany, where it was believed to be on Adolf Hitler’s personal train. But at some point, somehow, it was lost.
With the help of Superior police, the symbol is now on display at the society in Wisconsin through the first week of May before it will be moved to its new home at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior.
But the mystery hasn’t been completely solved, Tracy said.
Tracy first noticed the war trophy was missing in 2014 while turning through the pages of the scrapbook donated by the Carver County Historical Society in 1985. The scrapbook detailed all the historic relics donated to the society in Wisconsin in the 1940s.
More than 20 items in the scrapbook couldn’t be found in the society’s collection, so Tracy took to the Web. His searching paid off when he came across the eagle, retailing for $3,200 on Craigslist.
“Right away, I recognized it and called the Superior Police Department,” he said.
Detective Kirk Hill, known in his department as a history buff, set out to unravel the mystery. Hill tried contacting the seller and posed as a buyer of World War II memorabilia. The seller told Hill he had already sold the emblem. But Hill kept trying, and he eventually tracked down the seller in Eveleth. He admitted he still had the relic.
At the time, Hill said, he was uncertain whether the artifact was in fact the same one that had disappeared from Superior. He took the relic with him back to Superior, to be examined by an archaeologist at the historical society.
“They were 90 percent positive that it was the same one,” Tracy said.
Hill then launched an investigation into how the eagle landed in Eveleth. He drove back to Eveleth, and the seller decided to come clean. He told Hill that he had taken it from a storage shed in a scrap metal facility. The owner of the scrap yard told Hill he had no memory of the eagle, so Hill contacted the previous owner’s son-in-law.
The son-in-law said his son remembered finding the eagle while clearing out the scrap shed in 1976.
Hill said it proved that the eagle had been in the storage shed for the past 40 years.
“Why it was held there, nobody knows,” Hill said. “How the original owner obtained it, nobody knows for sure.”
The seller did not face any criminal charges.
The relic will be moved to the Bong Historical Center sometime in May. The center will present the emblem in a sensitive manner, said Bob Fuhrman, executive director of the center.
“We are not trying to glorify it,” he said.
The center houses a collection of war trophies brought back from overseas.
“It is such a significant piece of World War II history,” Hill said. “To me the most important thing about that is the fact that American soldiers and Allied soldiers actually risked their lives … and dismantled that Nazi war machine and brought back a piece of it.”