Handsell historic site is attacked by vandals

Submitted to the Dorchester Banner The Handsell Plantation House shows bullet holes after vandals fired at a number of displays on the site.

Submitted to the Dorchester Banner
The Handsell Plantation House shows bullet holes after vandals fired at a number of displays on the site.

VIENNA – Vandals have attacked a local historical site, using firearms to damage displays. A statement from the Nanticoke Historical Preservation Alliance, operators of the Handsell historic site, said on Sunday, “Recent incidents at Handsell involve shooting at the building and longhouse exhibits, including damage to a newly installed window. Persons responsible are subject to criminal prosecution, as vandalism to a National Register Historic Site is covered Under the Maryland Malicious Damage Law.”

Penalties include:
* Damage of less than $1,000 – Misdemeanor, up to 60 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500
* Damage of $1,000 or more – Misdemeanor, up to three years in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,500

“We have discovered a total of more than 20 bullet holes on the signs, doggie station, house and trailer,” the statement said. “Some idiots really had a field day with their guns at Handsell. Any information about this incident can be reported to the Maryland State Police.”

On Monday, Alliance President Midge Ingersoll contacted the Banner on Monday with an update. “It looks like they used more than one gun,” she said, raising the total number of bullet holes to as many as 30.

After a further inspection of the area, it was determined that perpetrators also were in the longhouse – a recreated Native dwelling – though no damage was found there. But it seems clear this wasn’t a quick, drive-by shooting.

“They spent some time there,” Ms. Ingersoll said.

It isn’t the first time vandals have visited the site, the main sign outside having been damaged in 2017. “Somebody tried to set fire to it,” Ms. Ingersoll said, adding with a rueful laugh why the attempt failed, saying, “It’s made of plastic.”

Not only were outdoor signs, brickwork and other displays damaged over the weekend, but particularly hurtful to volunteers is a broken window. The alliance recently spent $34,000 on a replacement project.

“The windows were $2,000 a piece,” Ms. Ingersoll said.

As a registered site, Handsell is defined as “the location of a significant event, a prehistoric or historic occupation or activity, or a building or structure, whether standing, ruined, or vanished, where the location itself maintains historical or archaeological value regardless of the value of any existing structure.”

Edith Knoblick heard the news online, and responded, “This is very sad news. However, it demonstrates the vitally important work that still needs to be done in this country. It is important to remember, I think, that many of the historical issues that this great site brings forward, both physically and on cyberspace, are extremely relevant today. It highlights the work still needed, more difficult perhaps than replacing the beautiful windows, in the hearts and minds of people. Keep at it. Don’t despair. The real work is ongoing and education of such ignorance is a most difficult task. Sites like this are the best chance for change to take place.”

Handsell is located along the Nanticoke River two miles north of Vienna. It is owned and maintained by the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance.

The site is connected to a prehistoric village named Chicacone or Chicone. It was once inhabited by thousands of Native people.

After the area was taken over by Europeans, African people worked as slaves on the property. With such a rich background representing these ethnic and racial groups, Handsell occupies a special place in Delmarva’s history.

A statement on the alliance’s website says, “History lives at Handsell, as we tell the story of these three cultures and how they blended to build a uniquely American experience.”

Members of the alliance are asking for tips leading to the arrest of the vandals. “Thank you for your help,” their statement said. “Please help us protect Handsell.”

The incident has been reported to the Maryland State Police (MSP) and the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office. To contact the MSP, Easton Barrack, call 410-822-3101. To reach the Sheriff’s Office, call 410-228-4141.

To learn more about Handsell, visit www.restorehandsell.org.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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