Rare antique stolen from federal site $12, 000 dolphin stolen from Hampton Mansion.

June 25, 1991|By Glenn Small and Meredith Schlow | Glenn Small and Meredith Schlow,Evening Sun Staff

One very strong thief or, more likely, several thieves, drove onto the 64-acre Hampton Mansion property in Towson and stole a rare cast-iron dolphin valued at $12,000.

The thieves got quietly past the cottage of caretaker Adam Karalius, who was asleep, the night of June 16 to get to the Georgian-style mansion, built in 1790.

There, they used tools and a spray lubricant to loosen three cast-iron bolts that had held the dolphin to a marble horse trough. The dolphin weighs 125 to 150 pounds.

"They must have driven up here in a truck or van," said Carol Rubright, a member of the mansion staff, noting that the dolphin probably was too heavy to be carried away on foot.

Because Hampton Mansion is a national historic site owned by the federal government and run by the National Park Service, the theft is being investigated by the FBI, not local police.

"We have an active investigation," said Jim Dearborn, a spokesman from the Baltimore FBI office.

The 4-foot long dolphin was once part of a working, spring-fed fountain that emptied into a marble horse trough. Both dolphin and horse trough were purchased in Italy in the mid-1800s by the Ridgely family.

The dolphin, depicted as a serpentlike creature, is a popular motif among certain antiques, said Stiles Colwill, a partner at Colwill-McGehee Antiques in Baltimore. The sea mammal is frequently found on objects such as sofas and chairs, made since the early 1800s. However, a dolphin fountain horse trough is rare, Colwill said.

Lynne Hastings, the curator of the Hampton Mansion, said the dolphin had been appraised just last month at $12,000, but that only a few staff members knew how much it was worth.

"This is a unique item," she continued. "What we're hoping is it will show up on the market." The dolphin, although cast iron, was painted a hazy green that made it look as if it were made of weathered copper or brass.

Hastings was asked if she thought someone might have stolen it thinking it was copper, with the intention of selling it to a scrap dealer. "No, I'm sure that whoever took it knew exactly what it was, a very rare and expensive garden ornament," she answered.

"I think it's a shame that someone would steal from a national park," Hastings said. "I mean, this belongs to all of us."

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