Within a few steps from a wooden gate behind Linden Place, a miniature statue of a war horse had stood for years. It was a remnant of Samuel P. Colt’s collection that was moved to the museum for safe keeping and to preserve the history of Bristol’s most prominent families of a bygone era.
“When Colt State Park went public, statues were starting to get vandalized or went missing,” said Susan Battle, site administrator at Linden Place.
This particular sculpture depicted a raring horse engaged in battle, as if protecting its fallen horseman. Half of a broken spear rested between its raised front legs. The other half was clenched between the steed’s teeth.
“It’s been there for the past 10 years since I’ve been here,” Ms. Battle said.
Overnight on Tuesday, it was the horse, and other statuary displayed on the grounds, that needed the protection.
On Wednesday morning, the concrete slab where the horse stood for decades was empty. A rusted bolt that secured it in place was all that remained. On the lawn in front of the mansion, two similar statues also suffered damage at the hands of an overnight intruder. Their bronze tails had been ripped from the bodies.
According to police, the thieves could be “scrappers,” people who collect metal and sell it for a few dollars to a scrap yard where it is crushed or melted down.
Besides the missing horse, staff at the museum also found that a 7-foot tall statue of Venus deMilo was also an apparent target of the thieves. That statue was found face down on a concrete floor on Wednesday morning.
“We thought kids knocked it over,” Ms. Battle said.
But after noticing that neither the statue nor the cement flooring was damaged, she had another thought.
“It looked like it was gently placed there,” Ms. Battle said. “I think they were getting ready to take her, too,” she said.
Over the past year, “scrappers” have damaged several areas in Bristol, taking valuable items and selling them as scrap. Several months ago, police arrested a man who stole veteran’s plaques from North Burial Ground and attempted to sell them to a scrap yard. Luckily, given the nature of the items, the business notified police and the man was arrested. The items suffered damage, however.
In another recent case, a man was caught in the act, attempting to steal a small brass cannon from the Rhode Island Veterans Home property.
“We’ve had a few plaques that had gone missing from garden areas that were dedicated,” Ms. Battle said.
This was the first time that someone had taken a statue.
While police are looking into leads, including information received from someone who saw a car leave the area, they are also beefing up patrols.
“Metal is very high right now,” said Deputy Chief Steven Contente. “Patrol officers have been instructed to watch high target areas.”
While police conduct their investigation, there is always a chance that the horse is still intact and will be recovered. When the thief is found, he or she could face felony charges for larceny over $1,500. Linden Place would just like to have their piece of Bristol history returned.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on being open to everyone and inviting the public to walk through the grounds,” Ms. Battle said. “I don’t know if it’s a sign of the times, but you start to see things. I’d hate to see any of the statuary moved inside.”
Since the theft, and an earlier break-in several months ago, Linden Place’s board of directors is considering adding lighting and security cameras to protect the museum and its artifacts.
“We’re sick over it,” Ms. Battle said. “I don’t think we’ll ever see it again.”