Sussex County History Today: History lost to thefts

| 20 Jun 2023 | 08:18

Recent news articles announced charges against nine men accused of stealing well into the millions of dollars of items from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut since 2013.

Several of those thefts took place in Sussex County and scratched away some of our home-grown treasures.

Let’s look more closely into what history has been lost from our county.

The Franklin Mineral Museum hosts a world-class collection of an astounding number of precious minerals that have been found in the ore bodies under the towns of Franklin and Ogdensburg.

Those natural resource treasures boggle the minds of geologists all over the world because of the number of minerals present, the rarity of those minerals - some found only here, and the spectacular visual beauty of the fluorescent qualities that many of these specimens exhibit.

The stolen specimens from the Franklin museum included zircon and emerald, amethyst, aquamarine, ruby, sapphire, opal and gold, said Dr. Earl Verbeek, a local mineral expert familiar with both Franklin museum and the Sterling Hill Mining Museum in Ogdensburg.

They were lost in a break-in that left shattered cases and broken glass as well as blood on the floor.

The Sterling Hill museum has the remains of the zinc mine and mill and is a great way to view the operations of a working mine. A drift and tunnels allow visitors to go into the mine and see it how it operated when in business.

There are fabulous displays at this museum. One very memorable display was of a large safe containing exquisite-looking gold pieces that shined in the intense light that highlighted its elegance.

The thieves allegedly absconded with many of these gold pieces, which have never been seen since. They most likely were melted down for the base property and sold for a much reduced price, not having the provenance known and no longer possessing the unique formation of their nature.

So these thefts left a hole in each museum’s collection, the space now taken up by other quality artifacts.

The events left a lasting impression: the loss of items and the knowledge and heritage of the pieces that can’t be touched or researched but only left to memory.

The crimes were, of course, demoralizing and at the same time caused a higher level of fear that it could happen again.

But these museums are resilient, with dedicated and passionate curators and workers who are willing and able to maintain the glimpse of Sussex County’s finest naturally occurring qualities.

Bill Truran is the Sussex County historian. He can be reached at