It's non-numismatic, but we're all collectors and should enjoy (and be horrified by) the story of a non-numismatic Don Miller, his fabulous collection, and a raid by the FBI. Here's a short excerpt, but be sure to read the complete tale online.
This past April Fool’s Day in Waldron, Indiana, a cavalry of FBI agents swarmed the farm where 91-year-old Don Miller was born and still lives today. Miller leads a pretty simple life: He practices the organ and sometimes makes calls on his ham radio, but he rarely leaves his house except to go to church. He is beloved by his neighbors.
Not exactly the typical profile of an FBI target.
But Miller wasn’t always this much of a homebody. Over the course of 60 years, he has traveled the world, picking up a wide array of art treasures and relics. Though the collection isn’t well-known outside central Indiana and Miller’s social circle, his thousands of items include: ancient arrowheads and Jivaro shrunken heads from South America, petrified wooly mammoth tusks, the egg of a T. rex, pottery from Hopi and Zuni tribes, an Egyptian sarcophagus and a Chinese terra-cotta soldier.
“I was blown away,” says Larry Zimmerman, an anthropology and museum studies professor at Indiana University who joined the FBI investigation and saw Miller’s pieces for the first time. “It’s a huge collection for a private individual.” Zimmerman says some of Miller’s pieces rival the Native American collections of many museums.
When the FBI came last month, they brought dozens of agents, art crime experts, archeologists and artifacts specialists. Spending several days scouring his house, they pitched a massive yellow tent on Miller’s property for about a week to examine his artifacts. They wound up carting away hundreds of pieces for further inspection.
At a time when there’s more scrutiny than ever on the provenance of art and the pedigree of the collector, Miller is a throwback to a time when you didn’t necessarily need to be wealthy or connected to pick up valuable pieces, and you didn’t need to be an archaeologist to get access to interesting artifacts. You might call him Indiana’s Indiana Jones.
Miller got the collecting bug as a kid, picking up arrowheads that he found walking around in the fields, and it became his chief passion as he got older. He gathered up artifacts when he went on church missionary trips overseas, and during his vacations. But Miller didn’t always collect the conventional way. Instead of making purchases from local collectors or galleries, he sometimes went on digs—often digs that he had brokered with local officials. One longtime friend and neighbor, Amy Mohr, describes how Miller prepped for one trip by stuffing an entire a suitcase full of cigarettes that he used as barter for precious goods. “He goes all over the world and is good at talking to the locals to find this stuff,” she says.
The bomb shelter is part of his basement, where in addition to the Native American artifacts, Miller has some keepsakes from his time working on the Manhattan Project. About 10 years ago, Miller invited Richard M. Gramly, a Harvard-trained anthropologist, and a friend to visit his home.
When Miller took Gramly downstairs, it wasn’t the art that grabbed his attention. ”There was a patch of the army unit to which he belonged,” Gramly recalls. “It had a mushroom cloud with a lightning bolt coming out of it.” Behind the mushroom cloud patch, he says, was a literal bombshell. ”On the shelf was a triggering device for an atomic bomb. The first bomb [Little Boy] that blew up Hiroshima was made exactly from those components,” says Gramly.
He said the half-hollow sphere was the size of a softball and the central sphere was the size of a golfball. “It was heavy uranium, which is heavy metal. One cannot confuse uranium isotopes with lead. Don Miller, in my opinion, did not have a copy of a trigger on the shelf of his display case in his basement relic room—rather he had the real McCoy.”
The discovery shook Gramly. ”To my horror, I see the man has a switch,” he says. “No private person should have this device.”
To read the complete article, see:
Why the FBI Is Investigating a 91-year-old Former Nuclear Engineer
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