Thief of Ruby Slippers thought they were real rubies

The perpetrator of the daring 2005 smash-and-grab theft of a pair of Ruby Sippers from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, turns out to be surprisingly clueless. Terry Martin managed to steal the iconic shoes, one of only four surviving pairs of the slippers worn by Judy Garland playing Dorothy in 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz, in less than a minute and keep them under wraps for 13 years, even as authorities and fans never stopped searching for them. Despite this appearance of competence, according to a filing made by his lawyer before his sentencing Monday, Terry Martin thought the Ruby Slippers were festooned with actual rubies rather than dyed glass beads and sequins.

It beggars belief, but apparently Mr. Martin, who was 57 years old at the time of the theft and was born nine years after the movie’s initial theatrical release, figured they had to be real rubies to justify the million dollars they were insured for. His cunning plan was to pry the rubies off and sell them piecemeal so nobody would be able to trace their origin. He only realized his mistake when a jewel fence he took one of the beads to broke the news that it was made of glass.

Martin had dealt in stolen jewels and had spent time in prison for burglary, his lawyer said. But he had been out of prison for 10 years at the time of the theft and was living quietly in Grand Rapids, a small city 80 miles northwest of Duluth, when an “old mob associate” contacted him about “a job,” his lawyer wrote.

Martin was initially reluctant to get involved, DeKrey wrote. But “old Terry” beat out “new Terry,” and he gave in to the temptation for “one last score,” his lawyer said. […]

Martin used a hammer to smash two window panes in a door of the Judy Garland Museum and broke open a plexiglass case holding the shoes, leaving behind a single red sequin and no fingerprints, court documents said.

But less than two days later, when the unnamed person who traded in stolen jewels told Martin that the gems were worthless replicas, “Terry angrily decided to simply cut his losses and move on,” DeKrey wrote. “He gave the slippers to the associate who had recruited him for the job and told the man that he never wanted to see them again.”

He was serious about that. Martin was only busted in 2018 when other parties tried to blackmail the insurance company for hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for the shoes. The FBI recovered the slippers in a sting operation, but the blackmailers, who were probably organized crime figures, and the mobster who originally recruited Martin back in 2005 were not arrested. Martin refused to implicate anyone else. He just pled guilty to the theft and is facing his fate alone.

His sentence was gentle. Martin has COPD and is in the last months of his life. He was sentenced to time served, a year of probation and to pay the museum $23,000 in restitution for the theft.

Denmark’s oldest runes found on knife blade

Archaeologists at the Museum Odense have identified Denmark’s oldest runes inscribed on a 1,850-year-old knife blade. The inscription consists of five runes with three depressions that runologists have interpreted as “hirila,” meaning “Little Sword.” The runic script is Proto-Norse, the oldest known runic alphabet, and the context dates the blade to around 150 A.D.

The knife was discovered by Museum Odense archaeologists in a burial ground in Tietgenbyen, east of Odense. It was one of several artifacts in an urn grave. Among the grave goods were three fibulae of a type that was only in use for a very brief period in the mid-2nd century A.D., the Early Roman Iron Age. The knife blade could then be indirectly dated to around the same time.

When the blade was first unearthed, it was coated in a layer of rust that obscured the inscription. Conservators spotted the runes after cleaning the corrosion and contacted National Museum runologist Lisbeth Imer. She examined the blade under a microscope and was able to translate the runic inscription.

Whether hirila is the name of the knife itself, or whether it is the name of the knife’s owner, Museum Odense archaeologists cannot determine with certainty. But there is no doubt that it was a treasured possession that ended up in the grave near Odense almost 2,000 years ago.

Runologist Lisbeth Imer from the National Museum says:

“It is incredibly rare that we find runes that are as old as on this knife, and it is a unique opportunity to learn more about Denmark’s earliest written language and thus also about the language that was actually spoken in the Iron Age. At that time in ancient times, literacy was not particularly widespread, and being able to read and write was therefore associated with a special status and power. At the beginning of the history of the runes, the scribes constituted a small intellectual elite, and the first traces of these people in Denmark are found on Funen.

Only one other runic inscription from this early period is known. It too was found on Funen less than 10 miles from Tietgenbyen but in 1865. It is a small bone comb inscribed with the runes “harja,” which either means “comb” or is a personal name.

“Little Sword” will be going on display in a new exhibition at the Museum Odense’s Møntergården museum from February 2nd through April 7th. It will be accompanied by other artifacts recovered from the Iron Age burial ground.

Roman arm guard restored from 100 fragments

A brass Roman arm guard that was found in more than a hundred pieces has been reconstructed by conservators at National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. It is one of only three Roman lorica segmentata (banded armor) arm guards known to exist today and it is by far the most complete of the three. The pieces of the arm guard were discovered in 1906 at the Roman outpost fort of Trimontium near Melrose in the Scottish Borders. They date to the 2nd century and were found in excellent condition, with pieces of the leather laces still embedded in the holes of at the ends of some of the plates.

The fragments have been in National Museums Scotland’s collection for over a century. The upper section has been on display in the National Museum of Scotland for 25 years, with the lower section loaned to the Trimontium Museum and dozens of fragments stored at the National Museums Collection Centre. They have now been brought together and assembled for the first time, offering a glimpse into the life of a legionary in Roman Scotland. Following the exhibition at the British Museum, the arm guard will go on permanent display at the National Museum of Scotland. […]

The arm guard stretches down from the shoulder and ends in a thin square of metal that would have protected the wearer’s hand, a design that may have been inspired by the equipment worn by gladiators fighting in the arena. Experts initially believed it would have been body armour, and it was later thought to be a thigh guard for a cavalryman. It is only in recent years that its true function has been understood.

First constructed in the 80s A.D., Trimontium was an enormous legionary fort (49 acres in area) that was at various times an advance outpost into Scotland, a civilian and military settlement 60 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall, a supply stop behind the front lines of the Antonine Wall, and lastly a settlement of dwindling civilian and military population until its ultimate abandonment in the late 2nd century.

The site was rediscovered by accident during railroad construction in the 1840s. The first professional excavations took place between 1905 and 1910 under the leadership of solicitor and archaeologist Dr. James Curle. Curle’s excavations unearthed an unprecedented number and variety of Roman armature, the largest collection of Roman military objects ever discovered in Britain. Most of this armature was found in the Pincipia, the administrative headquarters of the fort, where a workshop for equipment repairs was located. When the fort was abandoned in 180, the arms and armature still awaiting repair in the workshop were left behind.

Curle mentions the arm guard fragments (and his misunderstanding of them as shoulder and chest protection) in his seminal 1911 publication of the finds, Newstead, A Frontier Post and its People.

Remains of another type of scale armour were discovered in the floor of the chamber situated at the north-west corner of the Principia. Unfortunately, here also the pieces were too small to enable the cuirass of which they had formed part to be reconstructed. Altogether there were more than one hundred fragments (Plate XXIII.). These consisted for the most part of thin plates of brass from one inch to one inch and three-sixteenths in width, slightly curved, and having a thickness of two mm. The longest piece was about three and a half inches in length. In several instances it was clear that the fragment had formed the extreme end of the band to which it belonged. In such cases it was noted that the outer margin formed an acute angle with the lower edge, but that the sharp corner was blunted in the same manner as were the corresponding parts of heavier iron bands from Carnuntum. On the concave side of the bands near the upper edge are rivets. Upon several of these there are still to be seen adhering pieces of the leather backing to which they have been attached. At the end of each band near the edge a round hole has been bored; as none of these holes were found with rivets in them, it is possible that they were used for the insertion of a cord to draw the coat together. It is quite evident from the oxydisation of the metal that when the armour was left where it was ultimately discovered, the bands were overlapping. The curve of some of the pieces suggests that they were intended to protect the shoulders and arms. Others may well have covered the body. About half a dozen pieces, the largest of which measures four inches by three and seven-sixteenths inches, may have belonged to the breastplate.

Most legionary armor was made of iron. The brass arm guard would have shone like gold when new, so this must have belonged to an officer of high rank rather than an infantry grunt. While the shiny gold finish has oxidized to green now, the patina proved useful to conservators. Patterns of corrosion helped convey how the plates were connected, the laces tied and the padding attached.

The reconstructed arm guard goes on display at the British Museum’s Legion: Life in the Roman Army exhibition on February 1st. The show will run through June 23rd.

Monumental marble map of Rome on display again after 100 years

The surviving fragments of the Forma Urbis, the monumental marble map of the city of Rome created between 203 and 211 A.D., have gone on display in a new dedicated museum on the Caelian Hill. The new Museum of Forma Urbis embeds the fragments under the floor of a main hall, superimposed onto Giovanni Battista Nolli’s 1748 Pianta Grande di Roma, an iconographic plan of Rome that lays out the city in a detailed floor plan much like the Forma Urbis did for the 3rd century city.

I mentioned the Forma Urbis just last month in connection with the excavation of the Templum Pacis where it was installed on the interior wall of a classroom. The map captured the city to a scale of 1:240, engraving a meticulously detailed floorplan of the city practically room-by-room on 150 marble slabs that had already been affixed to the wall with iron pins. It was damaged and looted for its marble over the centuries. What was left of it was rediscovered in 1562 and the fragments were kept in the Palazzo Farnese until 1741, but they weren’t exactly responsible stewards. Many plates were broken and used as construction material for the Farnese Gardens.

In 1742 the remnants became part of the collections of the Capitoline Museum. Today only 1,186 pieces of it (10-15% of the original) survive from unidentifiable slivers to slabs covering whole blocks. The Temple of Peace was incorporated into the church of SS Cosmas and Damian in the Roman Forum, and the ancient classroom wall is now the façade of the basilica. The traces left on the wall — the holes where the pins were inserted, wear outlines of the slabs — have helped archaeologists puzzle together the fragments. Around 200 of them have been identified and placed on the modern topography of the city mapped by Nolli.

The Museum of Forma Urbis is located inside the new Archaeological Park of the Caelian, a green space on the hill overlooking the Colosseum where a multitude of archeological, architectural and epigraphic remains are now on display. They were unearthed during the excavations of the late 19th century when Rome underwent a burst of construction as the capital of a unified Italy. The Municipal Antiquarium was built on the Caelian in 1884 to store the profusion of archaeological materials found in the excavations. It opened as a museum from 1929 to 1939 but had to close due to structural problems caused by construction of the subway.

The new park brings these objects back to light organized in thematic groups that will allow visitors to explore aspects of Roman society, how social status was expressed in funerary monuments, the contrast between modest sacred spaces (shrines, sanctuaries) and the largest temples of the Imperial era, the differences between public and private buildings, the evolution of architectural taste and marble processing techniques, and how artifacts were reused and reworked.

The Park and Museum open to the public today, January 12th. The Archaeological Park is open daily and is free of charge. The Museum does have a separate entrance fee (9 euros for non-residents), unless you get the MIC card, which if you’re going to Rome you most certainly should get because it’s just 5 euros and gets you free entrance to a ton of museums and sites for a whole year.

Met acquires rare Romanesque Walrus ivory carving; UK bars export

The UK’s Arts Minister has placed a temporary export bar on a rare 12th century walrus ivory carving of the Deposition from the Cross to give local institutions the opportunity to raise the £2,006,595 (plus VAT of £40,131.90) necessary to acquire it for the nation. It was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a private sale arranged by Sotheby’s. A domestic buyer will have to either secure the full cost or show that they have a strong chance of reaching the goal by February 2nd. The deadline can then be extended until June if a serious effort to raise the funds is made. The likeliest UK buyer is the V&A which had the Deposition on long-term loan for four decades before the sale. The museum has not commented on whether it will make an attempt to acquire it.

The Romanesque ivory carving depicts Joseph of Arimathea taking the body of Christ down from the cross. The quality of the detail work is exceptionally high.

[Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest]
Member Tim Pestell said:

This mediaeval ivory depiction of the Deposition of Christ is a truly remarkable object, both for its early date and its sublimely skilful carving. Delicately observed and showing dignified restraint in its depiction of the dead Christ, it represents one of the finest surviving examples of English Romanesque ivory carving. This rarity means we have much to learn from it, ranging from examining its artistic design and the workshop that produced it, to scientific investigation of the walrus ivory it is made of that might tell us about mediaeval exploitation of the environment, and trade and exchange networks.

There was a brisk trade in walrus ivory in the Middle Ages. Its flesh-like luster, ease of carving and durability made it highly prized as luxury ornamentation, especially of religious objects, and it was readily available from Viking walrus hunters in Scandinavia and Greenland when elephant ivory was scarce. Inspired by Early Medieval Byzantine ivories, northern European carvers created plaques, low relief inlays, book covers, bishops’ croziers followed by increasingly elaborate and three-dimensional tabernacles and altarpieces.

The Deposition is believed to have been part of a much larger altarpiece with scenes from the Passion of the Christ. Today the only fragments from the ensemble believed to survive are the section depicting the Deposition of Christ and a smaller fragment of Judas eating the wine-imbued bread that Jesus passes him at the Last Supper marking him as the betrayer.

The Judas fragment, which is about half the size of the Deposition and only shows Judas’ head in profile, the hand of Christ and draped garments, was donated to the V&A in 1949. It was because of the Judas fragment that Gertrude Hunt, owner of the Deposition, loaned it to the V&A in 1982. The two were on display together in the museum’s medieval gallery until the owner reclaimed it in 2022 in order to sell it.