Cheyenne, WY (KGWN) - The German gas mask at the Wyoming State Museum isn't especially valuable. Museum curator Jim Allison estimates it's worth is between $150 and $300. But what it's been through in the last century, that he said, is priceless.
The mask, used by German forces in World War I was found by Sgt. Robert Pennewill during his time overseas. Allison said that according to Pennewill's notes, it was found where the Battle of Bellau Wood took place in France. The mask became part of the well-known Pennewill collection later purchased by William Coe, who then donated it to the Wyoming State Museum. But the mask's story didn't end there.
While on display at the state capitol building in the 1920's, the mask and other artifacts mysteriously disappeared, believed to be stolen. The trail leading to the mask went cold for years, until six months ago.
Allison said a Minnesota man e-mailed the museum saying he saw a mask that looked similar to the missing Pennewill mask on the auction site Ebay. After some investigation, Allison said they determined it was in fact, the same mask that had been missing for nearly 100 years. And it wasn't even that far away.
The mask was being auctioned off by Presidential Pawn, a pawn shop in Rapid City, South Dakota. "Whenever anybody says we believe the item you have is stolen it kind of gives you a sinking feeling in your stomach," said Presidential Pawn owner Chris Johnson. Johnson acquired the mask from someone who said they got it at agun show.
After talking to the museum, Johnson said it was a no brainer to return the mask. "You can't go wrong doing the right thing," said Johnson.
Soon after, the mask made it's way back to Cheyenne, where it's now proudly on display as the "Artifact of the Month".
"Is it an earth shattering peice? No," said Allison, "it's an interesting one, yes, but it's just good to know there are people out there who know its important to get things back where they belong."