Danvers Armory Robbery, 1976

(Forthcoming in the Danvers Herald, March 2019)

Armory
(The Danvers National Guard Armory in February, 2019)

On a hot August weekend in 1976, a group of men approached the 7-foot-high chain-link fence behind the Danvers National Guard Armory and cut their way through. They reached the side of the armory, and then snipped the telephone wires, preventing any security alarm from being sent out. The intruders picked the lock of the back door, knocked out the burglar alarm to prevent noise, and found their way to the gun vault.

The vault posed the greatest challenge. It was made of reinforced concrete with a steel door and combination lock. Cracking the lock combination would take too long, so they worked to crack the vault itself. The men took out pickaxes and whanged on the steel door, over and over, for more than an hour. At one point they took a break and turned their tools on a Coca-Cola machine to get a free drink. Refreshed, they continued banging on the vault, and eventually it gave way.

An unmarked van drove around the back of the hotel next door – what is today the Best Western. The driver turned the lights off and pulled up to the cut chain-link fence. The intruders came out with armfuls of weapons that they hurried into the van, while armed guards squatted in the tall grass as lookouts. Once loaded, the van and the robbers drove away, turned onto Rt. 1 south, and disappeared. They were never caught.

An armory employee came into work on Monday morning and discovered the robbery, which occurred sometime over the preceding weekend. Among the trove of weapons taken were 92 M16 rifles, 7 large M60 belt-fed machine guns, a .45 caliber pistol, two grenade launchers, several flak jackets, infrared binoculars, and a “Redeye” missile launcher. It was enough to outfit a small army.

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(Boston Globe picture and headline on the front page, August 17, 1976)

The story was reported in a front page article in the evening edition of that day’s Boston Globe. The investigation was led by the FBI, who immediately reviewed their files on all locals who were “active in radical causes.” A Danvers police captain on-scene recognized the break in as “a professional job,” and noted the impressions on the high grass where armed sentries kept watch. He candidly told the Globe about how unmatched the then-small town Danvers Police force was to handle such an armed confrontation: “I think it’s a good thing a police cruiser didn’t show up. I know I wouldn’t have liked to wander into that setup.”

Originally, Federal authorities noted that the firing pins for the weapons were not taken by the robbers, and therefore declared the guns “useless.” As a precaution, the firing pins were stored separately at Danvers Police Station. But, the guns were far from useless.

About two years later, British authorities discovered that some or most of the weapons were in the hands of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a guerrilla group fighting in Northern Ireland.  Most of Ireland became independent from the United Kingdom in the 1920s but part of the north of the country remained in the UK, where there was a split between the Irish Catholics who wanted an independent Ireland and the predominantly-Protestant British Unionists, who wanted to remain part of the UK.

Beginning in the late 1960s the Irish community staged civil rights protests, modeled after those of African-Americans in the United States, seeking both equal rights and Irish reunification. This political movement sought to unite Ireland by ballot, while the IRA guerilla operatives fought to reunite Ireland by bullet. After several incidents of British paratroopers killing unarmed protesters, the IRA’s membership grew and they sought weapons abroad.

The chain of events following the Danvers robbery is not entirely known, but in the following years the Globe ran several investigative reports on it. In 1977 a representative from the IRA met in Chicago with the robbers and purchased the weapons. The arms were then sent in several batches to Ireland, and one shipment captured by authorities was mailed in a crate marked “business machinery.”

The IRA had many M16s from Danvers and elsewhere, but the larger M60 machine guns were a boon to the insurgents. The enormous weapons looked menacing and were more powerful than what the British soldiers typically carried. The Danvers M60s were first displayed in January 1978 during a commemoration in Derry to mark the anniversary of British paratroopers killing unarmed civilians on “Bloody Sunday,” and the weapons were met with cheers by the crowds. After this unveiling, a Northern Ireland newspaper headline blared: “I.R.A. IN POSSESSION OF NEW AMERICAN SUPER WEAPON.”

An IRA gunman with an M60 machine gun on the streets of the Bogside at a Bloody Sunday commemoration in January 1978
(Picture from January 1978 when the IRA first revealed the M60s from Danvers. Source: https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/crime/bogside-held-in-fear-by-ira-for-years-it-was-dictatorship-1-6797214)

These large weapons were first used in 1978, when British soldiers on patrol were fired upon. Later that year, the British Army recovered two M60s from the IRA that came from the Danvers Armory. More of the weapons surfaced in 1979 during a roadside bomb ambush that killed 18 British soldiers – the single deadliest incident of the conflict. The IRA also claimed that it used a Danvers M60 machine gun to shoot down a British Army helicopter.

The story returned to Massachusetts in April, 1980 when firefighters in Walpole responded to a house fire. They entered an empty house and found a burning chair next to two barrels full of M16s. It appeared as though the fire was deliberately set to destroy the weapons. The FBI and the ATF recovered 46 M16s, and later the owner of the house, Charles A. Gallant Jr., was arrested and charged with possessing the stolen weapons from the Danvers Armory, though he was not involved in the robbery itself.

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(Boston Globe headline and picture, April 8, 1980)

No one was ever charged with the break-in at the Danvers Armory, and it remains an unsolved crime. It had deadly effects, with the Danvers guns attributed to at least 10 deaths and 19 wounded in Northern Ireland.

Danversport’s Grand Statue

(In the Danvers Herald, 2/28/19)

Statue
(Author’s photo, February 2019)

At the fork of Water and South Liberty Streets in Danvers is a large statue of a man mounted upon a horse, one of only 10 equestrian statues in Massachusetts. Often misidentified as a military man, the statue is of eccentric millionaire William Penn Hussey (1846-1910).

The statue depicts Hussey riding on a white horse, which commemorates him leading a procession through the streets of Danvers that included a 1,000 horsemen honor guard in front of a crowd of 75,000 cheering spectators. He rode not as a conquering general but instead as a generous community benefactor chosen as grand marshal of Danvers’ 150th anniversary parade in 1902.

Penn Hussey was born in North Berwick, Maine in 1846 and was a cousin of poet John Greenleaf Whittier, another one-time Danvers resident. Hussey was a teenage prankster, and one Sunday morning on St. Patrick’s Day he painted the local minister’s horse green while the village was attending church.

He ran away from home as a teenager and went west, working odd jobs in the California mines. An Indianapolis newspaper that later profiled his rise from rags-to-riches described him having occupations such as “ranchman, brakeman, cowboy, hobo.” He moved to Danversport in 1874, and worked as a farmhand, an attendant at the state hospital, and then a coal distributor.

While working at Danvers State Hospital, Hussey cared for a patient from Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard. Later, the patient returned home and Hussey went with him to continue as his caretaker. While there, Hussey fell in love with the patient’s sister, Sarah Munroe. They married and returned to Danversport where he established a coal depot and distribution business.

Penn Hussey pen and ink
(Pen-and-ink drawing of Penn Hussey along with his signature, from his company’s prospectus)

Later, Hussey put his mining experience and knowledge of the coal business into practice and founded a coal mine in Nova Scotia with his new (and wealthy) father-in-law. Hussey took out a loan to invest in the company, and travelled to Europe to convince wealthy financiers to invest in his project. While abroad, he addressed the House of Lords in London on the subject of his mine in Nova Scotia (which was then part of the British Empire). He succeeded in obtaining financial backing for his mine, and became a multimillionaire.

Map Broad Cove
(Map of Hussey’s Broad Cove Mine, from his company’s prospectus)

Hussey and his wife lived in the large brick “Riverbank” estate on Water St. from 1883 until his death in 1910. Despite living in a lavish mansion, he was so proud of the white horse he owned that he once brought it into his stately living room to show guests. He also socialized with the elite of Europe, and his daughter Mary Elaine met her future husband in Paris at a gala given by the President of France for the visiting Shah of Persia.

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(Riverbank in 1899, printed in Moynahan, Danvers, Massachusetts: A Resume of Her Past History and Future Progress)

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(Riverbank in February, 2019. Author’s photo)

Penn Hussey was known locally for his philanthropy in providing coal to Danvers locals who could not afford to heat their homes, and he refused to collect debts on over 1,000 accounts of people who were unable to pay him back. Despite being a multimillionaire who could afford the finest private schools, he sent his son to Holten High School (the public high school in Danvers, the precursor to Danvers High).

Hussey’s philanthropy in sponsoring Danvers’ 150th celebration in 1902 was described in a Boston Globe article entitled “Spent Money Freely.” The town appropriated only a small sum of money for the events, so Hussey stepped in and bankrolled a large portion of the celebration. He furnished floats for each public school, so that all 1,500 Danvers schoolchildren could ride in the grand parade. He also provided horses and saddles for the parade, in addition to hiring several marching bands. He paid for a banquet at his mansion that fed over 1,000 people “in a royal manner,” as the Danvers Mirror (the precursor to the Danvers Herald) described it.

The 150th parade was six miles long, and took 2 hours to pass by. In addition to the 1,000 horsemen in the parade, there were over 100 floats, marching bands, military detachments, veterans of both the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, and members of local civic groups. Seventy-five thousand people swarmed into Danvers via steam train, streetcars, horse-drawn carriages, and bicycles to see the festivities. One train headed to Danvers that day was so crowded that there were even people on the roof.

Penn Hussey’s death in 1910 was announced with a front page article in the Boston Globe, and later his death was included in the Globe’s January 1, 1911 year-in-review article on the most significant events of 1910. Reportedly, he requested to be mummified and have his body placed standing up in a glass case on the front lawn of his Water St. mansion. Instead, he is buried in Hussey Circle at Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem.

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(Boston Globe, April 27, 1910)

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IMG_0833
(Author’s photos, February 2019)

In 1913, Hussey’s son John Frederick Hussey commissioned George Thomas Brewster to sculpt a cast bronze statue of the philanthropist. The statue is of Penn Hussey wearing the uniform of a general in the Continental Army, the outfit he wore in the Danvers 150th parade as a patriotic homage. The statue’s head is turned to the east so that his likeness looks affectionately at his former Riverbank mansion across the street.

In 1925, Helen Keller met with Hussey’s son. He was so impressed with Keller’s plans for a New England Home for the Deaf that he sold the Riverbank estate to her organization for half its market price. He also gave $35,000 in trust to the Home for the Deaf to maintain the statue of Penn Hussey, with the stipulation that if the Home closed the statue and small park would be offered as a gift to the town. If the town were to refuse, the bronze statue would be melted down and the proceeds given to the public schools of North Berwick, Maine, Penn Hussey’s hometown.


Sources:

“Alfred Stead Is Dead.” The Boston Globe. December 16, 1907.

“Ask the Globe.” Boston Evening Globe. May 28, 1970.

“Brewster, George T. (1862-1943).” Connecticut State Library. Accessed February 10, 2019. https://ctstatelibrary.org/brewster-george-t/.

Broad Cove Coal Company. Prospectus of the Broad Cove Coal Company, Limited. Boston, Mass., 1894. https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/jspui/bitstream/handle/1974/11457/prospectusofbroa00broa.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

“Equestrian Statue in Position.” The Boston Globe. September 18, 1913.

Forman, Ethan. “‘Riverbank’ Makes Waves despite Condo Market Slowdown.” Salem News, July 6, 2011, sec. Business. https://www.salemnews.com/news/business/riverbank-makes-waves-despite-condo-market-slowdown/article_71d17e40-bb1b-53ae-9a02-7e412661e4e8.html.

“Hussey Will Offers $35,000 for Upkeep of Father’s Statue.” The Boston Daily Globe. December 4, 1954.

Inverness Miners’ Museum. “The Broken Ground: A History of a Cape Breton Coal Mining Community.” Virtual Museum of Canada. Accessed February 10, 2019. http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/histoires_de_chez_nous-community_stories/pm_v2.php?id=record_detail&fl=0&lg=English&ex=00000738&rd=191898.

“Looking Backward: A Review of the Year.” The Boston Sunday Globe. January 1, 1911.

“Millionaire Tramp Dead.” The Boston Daily Globe. April 27, 1910.

Moynahan, Frank E. Danvers, Massachusetts: A Resume of Her Past History and Future Progress. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Mirror, 1899. https://archive.org/details/danversmassachus00moyna/page/n3.

New England Homes for the Deaf. “The History of NEHD.” New England Homes For the Deaf, 2016. http://nehd.org/history/.

Newton, David, and Pamela Newton. They Came From Away: Yanks, Brits and Cape Breton. New York: iUnverse, 2010.

“Odd Tricks of Fortune.” Indianapolis Journal. December 9, 1900.

Smithsonian American Art Museum. “William Penn Hussey, (Sculpture).” Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog, 2016. https://siris-artinventories.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?&profile=ariall&source=~!siartinventories&uri=full=3100001~!328225~!0#focus.

Stacy, Bonnie. “Historical Perspective: Mr. Munroe of Edgartown – Tailor, Millionaire.” Martha’s Vineyard Times. January 30, 2013. https://www.mvtimes.com/2013/01/30/historical-perspective-mr-munroe-edgartown-tailor-millionaire-14119/.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Town of Danvers. The Celebration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Establishment of the Town of Danvers, Massachusetts, as a Seperate Municipality. Boston, Mass.: Fort Hill Press, 1907.

Zollo, Richard P. On the Sands of Time: The Life of Charles Sutherland Tapley. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Historical Society, 1990.

Online Historical Resources for Danvers and Salem Village History

Just added to the menu above is a page entitled “Online Historical Resources” (https://spectersofsalemvillage.com/online-historical-resources/).  This page features primary and secondary sources relating to Danvers, Salem Village, and 1692 history. These sources are all available online through the links under each bibliographical entry.

More sources, especially from the 19th and 20th century, will be continually added. Additionally, suggestions are always welcome!