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Historic Machine gun for sale
April 23, 2007 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Sgt. Alvin C. York was the most decorated individual US Soldier in WWI. Subject of the top grossing movie of 1941, He was credited with capturing 138 German soldiers nearly single handedly by flanking a Machine gun nest, and killing its occupants. The Machine gun in question may be destroyed because the library that owns it does not have a proper license.
posted by Gungho (44 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Links...do...not...work.
posted by portisfreak at 8:27 AM on April 23, 2007


Why are my links all borked? It looked good in preview.
alvincyork.org
Medal of Honor.com
German soldiers reference
posted by Gungho at 8:31 AM on April 23, 2007


You have five links up there. You might want to include all of them so jess or matt can fix them for you.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:33 AM on April 23, 2007


Matt needs to remove the metafilter stuff from the first part of the first three link addresses.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:34 AM on April 23, 2007


So that we don't have to sign up for that newspaper, how about posting the relevant portion?
posted by caddis at 8:35 AM on April 23, 2007


The meat of the post ("Machine gun in question") is behind a login.
posted by notsnot at 8:36 AM on April 23, 2007


The FPP in question may have to be destroyed.
posted by three blind mice at 8:37 AM on April 23, 2007


They'll work if you delete:
http://www.metafilter.com/60538/
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:37 AM on April 23, 2007


This may be a good thing. I can think of few things more frightening than librarians with machine guns.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:39 AM on April 23, 2007


Fixed. Links need to have "http://" in front of them, otherwise the browser will try to render them as relative links.
posted by cortex at 8:41 AM on April 23, 2007


Nahant Library would like to sell historic WWI machine gun

By David Liscio/The Daily Item
NAHANT - The Nahant Public Library wants to sell one of its most valuable possessions: a German machine gun captured by Army Sgt. Alvin C. York during World War I.

How did the library trustees become the weapon’s keeper?

According to local officials and historic documents, Nahant resident Mayland Lewis was on the battlefield in the Argonne Forest of France on Oct. 8, 1918, when Sgt. York led seven soldiers in a daring attack on a German machine gun nest, killing 25 and capturing 132 others, including four officers.

Lewis was assigned to the adjutant’s staff because he was skilled in shorthand and typing, having worked as a law clerk for a Lynn judge named Sisk. The company commander ordered Lewis to take notes on York’s amazing feat of bravery and what transpired during the surrender.

Many of the stunned German soldiers still clutched their weapons, holding them passively above their heads. They were ordered to stack them near the adjutant’s headquarters. Lewis plucked the deadly Maxim mac-hine gun and a Mauser rifle from the pile and shipped them home to Nahant. It was a story that Lewis seldom told, but one which his son, Nippy, would memorize and pass down.

According to Nippy Lewis, on Armistice Day, which celebrated the end of WWI, the Nahant Boy Scouts paraded the machine gun along the streets of the peninsula in a small red wagon.
Nippy Lewis’ Dec. 17, 2002 letter to Nahant historian Calantha Sears, explains that his father was not an ardent motion picture fan, but eagerly attended a showing of the movie Warner Brothers made in 1941 entitled “Sergeant York,” starring Gary Cooper. “We went to see it and the story came out,” he wrote.

Sgt. York, who was born in Pall Mall, Tenn., was the Great War’s most-decorated soldier, receiving the Medal of Honor and several other major commendations, including the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre. Witnesses said the 30-year-old infantry sergeant charged the Maxim machine gun nest head-on after this platoon suffered heavy casualties in the trench warfare. The water-cooled Maxim machine gun was a state-of-the-art killing machine, credited with cutting down more American soldiers than any other infantry weapon.

The vintage machine gun’s connection to Sgt. York gives it far greater value, according to estimates provided by auctioneers who believe it could fetch more than $100,000 from collectors.

Daniel deStefano, the library director, said the Lewis family gave the machine gun to the town. Since there was no Nahant Historical Society at the time, it was taken to the library for safekeeping.

Sears said one of the librarians was uncomfortable with the weapon in such close proximity, so it was temporarily taken to the American Legion, but eventually ended up in the library’s attic.

“I literally tripped over it one day, about three years ago,” deStefano recalled. “That’s when we got interested in finding out more about what it might be worth because we are trying to raise money for a library expansion. We thought it might be better to sell the machine gun than ask the taxpayers for more money.”

John Welsh, a library trustee, said a bureaucratic tangle soon emerged and hasn’t been resolved. “It’s a machine gun and it’s not registered, so apparently we can’t sell it until we find a legal way to own it,” he said. “We’ve had estimates that it could be worth up to $200,000, presuming we can show its relationship to Sgt. York.”

Both Welsh and deStefano said at least two agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) have listened to the story but offered no recommendations, other than to suggest the machine gun be destroyed.

“Imagine destroying the German machine gun that was captured by Sgt. York just because it’s not registered,” said Welsh, adding that the library trustees’ decision to seek legislative help was equally unproductive. “We didn’t get anywhere. It seems nobody wants to touch the problem and be credited as the politician who put another machine gun back into society. But it’s not like we’re going to sell it to some street gang. Besides, there’s no ammunition.”

According to deStefano, getting permission to sell the weapon could take an act of Congress. Meanwhile, the machine gun captured by Sgt. York remains in an evidence locker at the Nahant police station. The Historical Society has been caring for the Mauser rifle.

Negotiations with the ATF have put deStefano in a funk. He described a four-way conference call during which an obviously young ATF agent admitted not knowing the story of Sgt. York or much about WWI. “That’s the person the ATF has making the decision about this machine gun. It’s no wonder we didn’t get very far,” he said. “At that point, I advised the trustees to go the legislative route.”

Sears, too, recalled difficulty getting the machine gun for a Historical Society event a few years ago. “We had a WWI poster exhibit and we asked if we could use the gun as part of it. We had 46 WWI posters that Don Hodges’ father had collected,” she said, noting that the Nahant police told her it would not be possible because the weapon isn’t registered. “From what the police chief explained, there was a window of opportunity in the 1980s when we could have registered it, but that has come and gone.”

Despite the roadblocks, deStefano, Welsh and others say they are going to again seek legislative help from U.S. Sen. John Kerry and U.S. Rep. John Tierney.

“The library ran out of space 60-70 years ago. Expanding it is a long-term project that could cost $2-3 million,” deStefano said. “It requires the library commissioners to do an architectural study and come up with a plan. It would be great if the sale of the machine gun helped that process along. But if we can’t get it registered and sold, the gun itself should not be destroyed. It should go to a historical museum that can keep it securely.”
posted by Gungho at 8:42 AM on April 23, 2007


All fixed!
posted by miss lynnster at 8:42 AM on April 23, 2007


Gungho: When you add a link using the "link" button, you need to keep the "http://" part there otherwise, on posting, the mefi-voodoo- publishing-engine-machine assumes the links are relative to this site.
posted by davehat at 8:43 AM on April 23, 2007


This is the Sgt. York that inspired the GI Joe-esque action figures? I wondered as a kid why the Sgt. Rock figures were slightly diminutive compared to the GI Joes (the plastic ones, I wasn't old enough (or young enough with the reissues) for the barbie doll sized GI Joe). The kid-rationalization lobe of my brain determined that the size difference was because actual heroes were less in stature and importance than mythic ones.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:44 AM on April 23, 2007


Wayne Campbell: I mean, there are two Darren Stevens, right? Dick York and Dick Sargeant. Yeah, right, as if we wouldn't notice. Oh hold on: Dick York, Dick Sargeant, Sergeant York... Wow, that's weird.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:47 AM on April 23, 2007


This is a unique historical artifact and I seriously doubt it will be destroyed on the authority of two ATF agents. In these cases, getting congresspeople or senators involved usually slices through the red tape.
posted by demiurge at 8:50 AM on April 23, 2007


I thought the first reaction of the junior ATF guys to destroy an unlicensed machine gun was historic in of itself.
posted by Gungho at 8:54 AM on April 23, 2007


Negotiations with the ATF have put deStefano in a funk. He described a four-way conference call during which an obviously young ATF agent admitted not knowing the story of Sgt. York or much about WWI. “That’s the person the ATF has making the decision about this machine gun. It’s no wonder we didn’t get very far,” he said. “At that point, I advised the trustees to go the legislative route.”


Well, they contacted the press. That is a good start. Senator or Congressman would be the next logical step. One thing I wonder though, could "destroy" just mean make non-functioning?
posted by caddis at 8:54 AM on April 23, 2007


Can we talk about gun control now?
posted by HuronBob at 9:07 AM on April 23, 2007


Bunch of do-gooders. They should've just dropped the old thing off at a museum with a note. Like we did to Gramps.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:12 AM on April 23, 2007


One thing I wonder though, could "destroy" just mean make non-functioning?

That was my thought too--why not just plug the barrel with lead or some other molten metal? An old family friend of mine that moved to Ireland had to do that with an old hunting rifle she had.
posted by LionIndex at 9:18 AM on April 23, 2007


(walter brennan voice)
"Alvon, ya's got ta fight itsss ya gawd given duty, never mind that fancy pants MUseum, if theys destroy that thar weapon...history itself is gonna be..."

sell the thing so the library can buy books.
posted by clavdivs at 9:19 AM on April 23, 2007


Hey Gungho - thanks for the post... and proving that I'm not the only person on MeFi who can't post properly.
posted by chuckdarwin at 9:22 AM on April 23, 2007


Let's talk about Alvin York: A poor, sorry son of a bitch, who imperiled his eternal soul by allowing a fast-talking Army swine to convince him he needed to get off his farm, abandon his deepest religious convictions, and travel 2,000 difficult miles to Europe to murder a passel of German boys he'd never met, and had no real quarrel with. As a result (of this and other victories), the Allies did not need to negotiate a peace with Germany, but were able to victoriously carve up the imperialist world in their interest, setting the stage for the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust, World War Two, Hiroshima, the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, the 9-11, the current Iraq war, and much, much more. Thank you Alvin York.
posted by Faze at 9:44 AM on April 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


GLIB!
posted by Burhanistan at 9:46 AM on April 23, 2007


Blame Alvin.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:47 AM on April 23, 2007


I thought the first reaction of the junior ATF guys to destroy an unlicensed machine gun was historic in of itself.

C'mon. It's not like they never try.
posted by dhartung at 10:12 AM on April 23, 2007


Faze...nice! (ahem)

I thought the BATF had some policies and procedures in place to certify weapons as non-firing museum and privately-owned conversation pieces...but of course, I'm assuming that somebody saw fit to strip this wep down and remove the firing pin, maybe the bolt, etc. It'd still be cosmetically the same weapon.

("Maxim gun" is more a type of gun than a particular model, kinda like "lever action" might've meant a Winchester to some minds. Sir Hiram Maxim was a Brit. I bet what they've got is a Maschinegewehr model 1908 or thereabouts.)

I talked with the owner of a military-surplus store about this bit of store decoration -- he assures people that it's never going to shoot anything again, ammo or no ammo, but I never did get the skinny on what kind of paperwork had to get executed, and his father bought it back before the JFK assassination, in an era when you could get pretty much whatever man-portable surplus you wanted mail-order without raising eyebrows.

(Coming up with the right ammo is potentially a nontrivial exercise; even if you get the right caliber, it still has to feed properly. And firing a weapon older than I am, and especially ammo older than the average MeFi'er, is not something I'd be really eager to try.)
posted by pax digita at 10:18 AM on April 23, 2007


I would oppose the distruction or displacement of this machine gun because of the story it brings arounds.

It is incredible to see how an apparently simple, generous, maybe a lil stubborn and a lot confused, but otherwise likeable person like Mr.York was convinced by the combined action of bible thumping and jingoistic nationalism to kill and risk his life so much.

Yet somehow he managed to see some light, to notice there's more to know then what meets the eye and what does he do ?
Alvin York conceived the idea of establishing schools for mountain children. This way he could save many a mountain boy from the embarrassment he had had to face many a time when he was forced to confess that "I'm just an ignorant mountain boy."
and in an apparently staggering contradiction
He had long dreamed of a Bible school to train young ministers and workers in the fundamentalist faith. Now he attempted to found such an institution on the Old York homeplace at Pall Mall.
yet understandable if we consider his education and the confusion he certainly experienced in following the commandments such as "thou shalt not kill" and yet feeling forced somehow to kill.

An interesting man, not a sterotype supersoldier , I bet his story alone is worth saving that machine gun.
posted by elpapacito at 10:25 AM on April 23, 2007


Let's talk about Alvin York: A poor, sorry son of a bitch, who imperiled his eternal soul by allowing a fast-talking Army swine to convince him he needed to get off his farm, abandon his deepest religious convictions, and travel 2,000 difficult miles to Europe to murder a passel of German boys he'd never met, and had no real quarrel with. As a result (of this and other victories), the Allies did not need to negotiate a peace with Germany, but were able to victoriously carve up the imperialist world in their interest, setting the stage for the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust, World War Two, Hiroshima, the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, the 9-11, the current Iraq war, and much, much more. Thank you Alvin York.

THANK YOU.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2007


elpapacito, if you don't know of what else Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson was doing before the outbreak of the Civil War, you might be similarly pleasantly surprised. I might not have bought into his theology 100%, but anybody who'd risk flouting Virginia law to teach "the darkies" to read so that they could study the Bible is worth knowing about -- like Alvin York, he's a more complex person than a casual knowledge of history suggests.
posted by pax digita at 10:50 AM on April 23, 2007


...setting the stage for the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust, World War Two, Hiroshima, the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, the 9-11, the current Iraq war, and much, much more.

Not to mention global warming and acne.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:53 AM on April 23, 2007


the Holocaust, World War Two, Hiroshima,

The Treaty of Versailles probably had a bit more to do with those than Alvin York.
posted by Cyrano at 11:16 AM on April 23, 2007


The trolls are out in force today. You'd think this man won WWI single handedly and then went on to found the Nazi's and such. I suppose you'd have all been happier if the allies had lost?
posted by IronLizard at 11:22 AM on April 23, 2007


I can think of few things more frightening than librarians with machine guns.

Weird Al can.
posted by well_balanced at 11:25 AM on April 23, 2007


I suppose you'd have all been happier if the allies had lost?

The best thing that would ever have happened to the world would have been if the Allies had either lost, or had to negotiate a settlement with the Germans in World War One. It simply would have been the Franco-Prussian War all over again. The combatants would have withdrawn to their own borders after the Germans forced a certain number of trade and territorial concessions, and that would have been it. Instead, the U.S. had to stick its big nose into the war, and we got Versailles and the whole shebang -- including what we now call Iraq and the current divisions in the Middle East. As I said, thank you Alvin York and Woodrow Wilson.
posted by Faze at 1:25 PM on April 23, 2007


It's really pointless to lament the twists and turns of history and how it "should" have been. There are simply far too many variables to compute to be even close to accurate as to what an outcome of a given scenario would be if we change some detail to suit our liking.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:40 PM on April 23, 2007


Do you think what we have now would have been any better if Versailles hadn't happened and Colonialism was allowed to continue rampantly? It is a great 'what if?' though...
posted by Gungho at 2:12 PM on April 23, 2007


Faze, you may of course hold whatever theories you want about world history, but your argument is completely beside the point. These links are about the heroic actions of one soldier whose actions are remarkable on their own.

Many Americans do not know of this soldier's actions and the loss of a significant historical artifact related to the story of this soldier would be a loss to future generations.

I hope that the town does end up selling the gun to a museum which could actually display it.

I was thinking that it's too bad there is no museum in America like the Imperial War Museum in the UK. However, a quick search reveals the newly opened "National World War One Museum" in Kansas City.
posted by notmtwain at 2:27 PM on April 23, 2007


Do you think what we have now would have been any better if Versailles hadn't happened and Colonialism was allowed to continue rampantly?

Colonialism didn't end at Versailles. Ho Chi Minh tried to hold the allies to their rhetoric about "a free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims" at the Versailles peace talks, but was turned away. The US backed French colonialism after both World War I and World War II, resulting in the Vietnam War.

The decolonization of Africa happened after World War II.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:33 PM on April 23, 2007


It was Alvin York in the test chamber that day, thereby causing the resonance cascade and bringing in the combine some odd years later. Everybody died and it's all his fault. (sarcasm)

Seriously, hooray for old stuff.
posted by bam at 4:22 PM on April 23, 2007


The weapon is very easily sold. It can be sold on a class three license, from one class three FFL holder to another. They need to contact a class 3 FFL, indicate they'd like to sell it, and sell it to somebody in a state where it's legal to own (like Virginia or Texas), via a local class 3 FFL, and pay the BATF $200 fee for registering a class 3/destructive device.

I can't believe (well, okay, maybe I can) the BATF guy is so thick as to not understand this.

Relic machine guns are not my thing, and $200k is a pretty high price, so I'm not interested. :)

Also, the weapon can be de-militarized and sold as a relic or curio, without BATF strictures. However, this usually includes things like welding the barrel shut, removing the sear, and other parts, which would of course reduce its value. But, make it easier to sell.

Choices, choices. Oh wait! Let's destroy it so nobody goes on a shooting rampage with it in the library. After all, that can happen in states like Virginia, where machine guns are legal!
posted by avriette at 7:07 PM on April 23, 2007


pax digita: the US government sells M-1 garands through the civilian marksmanship program. These weapons are fired every day on shooting ranges. My wife and I have had the privilege of firing them. I could link to a (ahem) previous post of mine, but firearms are not especially complicated, and even really, really, old ones still work.

Of that vintage, though, I don't think the standard problems with older weapons (like the mid-late 1800s guns) have with black powder vs flash powder, lead vs jacketed bullets, etc. My guess is that sucker would work just fine if somebody had the right ammunition for it, and it was cleaned. If it's been demilled there's no problem. Any gun shop (and, hell, any police station) should be able to tell. Hell, I could tell.
posted by avriette at 7:12 PM on April 23, 2007


“As I said, thank you Alvin York and Woodrow Wilson.”

Yeah, those damned progressive democrats. Refuse a military build up because it might be too provocative and then go to war anyway and force a draft. Yup, that there’s good policy.
Odd how the idealist position has been taken up by modern neo-cons, never seems to have been abandoned by liberals in government (as separate from left anti-war folks).
Seems like the only arguments rest on why we should or shouldn’t wage war not the practical realities that force those decisions.

Of course, filthy war mongering soldiers like York had loads to do with going to war in the first place. The whole “conscientious objector” and “being drafted” thing was just a dodge. He engineered all those events from behind the scenes. S’true.

also ZOMG!!! GUNS!!!!
A belt of 7.92 mm, yeah, you can get ahold of that easy. In Belgrade maybe. It’s a water cooled field piece, no one is going to be running around with it. No reason not to plug the barrel though. It’s really a non-issue.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:13 AM on April 24, 2007


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