Ed Driscoll

72 Year Old School Teacher Stumbles Across Rare Antique. And You Won't Believe What Happens Next!

It’s New Jersey; of course you will:

[Gordon] Van Gilder’s ordeal began last November, when the car he was traveling in was pulled over by police. At the time, he and a friend were on their way back from a meeting with an antique dealer.I’m very interested in the 18th century, both here and in Britain,” he tells me over the phone. “I’ve collected a lot of 18th-century items. I have some things from the Continental Army, including some personal documents — letters and so on. But I’m more interested in the things they made. My house is full of 18th-century furniture. I have little spoons, glassware. It’s an obsession of mine. I’m not a gun collector per se, but I think they’re interesting.”

The gun in question, Van Gilder says, “was probably made about 1765 in Belgium — for the British market.” A dealer found it in Pennsylvania, and held it for him. “I paid $800 for it. It’s a boxlock pistol, so there’s no hammer. It’s beautiful.”

Having picked the gun up, Van Gilder and his friend first went to lunch, and then they headed home. “My friend was driving because my arm is shot,” Van Gilder recalls. On the way home, the pair were pulled over by a local sheriff. According to Van Gilder, the detaining officer told him that he wanted to search the car, and threatened him with dogs if he refused. “I didn’t mind,” he tells me, but he wanted to make sure that the officer knew that there was a flintlock pistol in the glove compartment, and that he had just purchased it. “Oh, man,” Gilder says. “Immediately, he wanted to arrest me. But when he called the undersheriff, he was told, ‘No, it’s a 250-year-old pistol; let him go.’”

The officer did as he was told, and gave the pistol back. The next morning, however, he came back — “with three cars and three or four sheriffs.” Van Gilders says, “He told me, ‘I should have arrested you last night.’” So he did. “They led me away in handcuffs” and, at the station, “chained me by my hands and feet to a cold stainless-steel bench.”

“I’ve never been handcuffed in my life — or arrested, even,” Van Gilder explains. “I was embarrassed and ashamed. The only prisoner there was myself: a 72-year-old English teacher. I was really ashamed.”

The only people who should be ashamed are New Jersey’s legislators. As Charles C.W. Cooke writes, “Of late, New Jersey seems to have been working overtime to solidify its reputation as the silliest state in the union,” and that’s saying something for my basket case former home state.