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'Antique' explosive found in downtown Charleston basement

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City and state investigators examined an “antique device” in the parking lot of The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon and military officials later removed what was found to be a Civil War-era artillery shell.

One State Law Enforcement Division bomb squad officer and one Charleston bomb squad member examined the explosive about 11 a.m. for powder that could pose a danger. By 1 p.m., the U.S. Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit had taken possession of the shell, likely to destroy it. 

All unearthed shells belong to the military.

The unexploded bomb was discovered by a group of Boss Energy electrical workers who were beginning a job in an empty building on Gillon Street. They located the shell in a corner of the basement. One of the workers, Dyzhon Boykins, carried it to the parking lot before the crew realized what it was, at which point they called authorities.

"It was nuts," Boykins said. He was glad to be unharmed.

The shell belonged to a family who had owned the property, current owner Thomas George said. It's been sitting in a cellar since he began renovating the building about a year ago.

Several onlookers watched as the shell was tested for active powder that could cause it to explode.

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Kathryn Hernandez, left, Rigel Kocur, center, and Chris Rose, employees at the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, watch from a window as responders investigate an old artillery shell in the parking lot on Wednesday, February 5, 2020. Lauren Petracca/Staff

The Air Force's explosive ordnance disposal unit took the device shortly before 1 p.m., and police reopened the surrounding streets.

Tony Youmans, the Old Exchange's facility manager, said the shell looked like an 8-inch round for a Parrott rifle from the Civil War.

“To me, what’s really scary is that the fuse is in place,” Youmans said. “(An explosion) would be devastating."

An explosive of this type could have a blast radius of over 100 feet, Citadel history student Chris Rose said. The danger depends on how much black powder is left in the device. The shrapnel would be the biggest danger, he said.

The shell was probably never fired, Rose said. To him, it looked like the cap was screwed back in, but not all the way.

Youmans and Rose thought it was likely a Union shell.

It's not the first time an old, possibly dangerous explosive has been uncovered in downtown Charleston. Finding Civil War-era munitions on the peninsula isn't unusual, Lt. Jim Byrne with the Charleston Police Department's Explosive Device Unit told The Post and Courier in 2014.

That year, construction crews discovered an artillery shell at the College of Charleston that had been in the ground since the 1860s. Officials were worried the shell could explode, since the gunpowder could be just as potent as it was the day the shell was made.

The College of Charleston was the site of another discovery in 2017 when workers dug up a cannon ball. The Charleston Air Force Base Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit came to remove it.

Fleming Smith contributed to this report.

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