Sometime over the last week, thieves made off with a massive artifact of Virgin Islands history, components of a rum still that was on display at the Estate Whim Museum.
Sara Zuckerman, events and marketing manager for the St. Croix Landmarks Society, said the still was last definitely seen Saturday. On Thursday, the maintenance man was doing a walk of the property and realized it was missing.
Museum officials fear that the item was not stolen for what it is, but for what it’s made of. Thieves might not care about its historical value, but it’s made of more than a ton of copper, which if cut down and melted would be worth money.
"It’s copper, it’s two tons of copper, or at least a ton," said museum board member David Hayes. "It’s huge."
He would know. Hayes set up the exhibit it more than 20 years ago when it was first donated.
Hayes estimated the largest part of the equipment, the primary retort, is eight feet in diameter. The other pieces stolen are the secondary retort and the copper tubing connecting the two.
The still was originally built in 1933, he said, and it was the first still licensed in the United States after the end of Prohibition.
According to Zuckerman, the exhibit sat on a concrete pad and was a regular part of the museum tour. The concrete shows the mark where thieves dragged the equipment across it.
They haven’t given up all hope that it will be recovered, but time is of the essence. It wouldn’t take much time for thieves to cut it up or melt it down and shove the pieces in a container to ship to another island for sale.
"There’s probably half a dozen people who recycle metal on this island. Every one of them has to be talked to, and soon," Hayes said.
He said the chances for its recovery are probably less than 50-50.
"If it’s still intact we can put it back together and put it on display again," Zuckerman said. "It’d be very sad if it was gone forever."