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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Pried off and stolen: A nearly 100-year-old historic marker vanishes from WA Capitol Campus

A nearly 100-year-old historical marker has been mysteriously stolen from Washington's Capitol Campus and, with no leads on who took it, the state patrol is now asking the public for help solving the crime. 

The bronze plaque commemorated the location of the home of Washington's first territorial governor, Isaac Ingalls Stevens. Washington's first post-statehood governor, Elisha P. Ferry, also lived there when he served as a territorial governor. 

The approximately 15-by-20-inch plaque was affixed to a large monument stone located along busy Capitol Boulevard, a short distance from the state patrol headquarters and also not far from the Capitol building. It was placed there in 1924 by the Sacajawea Chapterof the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). 

Credit WA State Archives
WA State Archives
The stolen plaque marked the location of the home of Washington's first territorial and first state governors on what is today's Capitol Campus.

"I am just very sad and it is discouraging," said Shirley Stirling, the DAR's state historian and a member of the Sacajawea Chapter.

Stirling said this was the fourth theft of a DAR monument in Washington in the last couple of years. She suspected thieves may target bronze plaques because they can be sold to unscrupulous recyclers as scrap. 

A member of the Capitol Campus visitor services bureau first noticed the marker was missing on May 12. The theft was reported to the state patrol at the time, but not made public until Thursday when the patrol issued a news release seeking tips from the public. 

"Our troopers were doing some investigative work, were not getting many leads or anything so we decided to enlist the public's help to try to solve this," said the patrol's Sgt. Darren Wright.

Wright confirmed that a likely reason for the theft of the plaque was "probably to melt it down for a few bucks."

The theft was discovered just days after an estimated 1,500 people attended an unpermitted rally not far from the monument to protest Gov. Jay Inslee's "Stay Home" order. But Wright said it's unlikely there was a connection between the two events.

Credit WA State Archives
WA State Archives
The theft of a nearly 100-year-old commemorative plaque on Washington's Capitol Campus was first noticed on May 12.

"It would take some time and take some effort to [steal the plaque], so it's just an assumption that it was probably done at night sometime, not in the middle of broad daylight," Wright said. 

Despite cameras and a state patrol presence, the Capitol Campus is not immune to acts of vandalism, including spray painting and graffiti. Even brazen crimes are not unprecedented.

In June 2014, two women were caught on camera after they managed to enter the governor's office from a second floor balcony. Once inside, they stole several items including a ceremonial trooper hat and a bottle of wine. In a fluke, the women were later arrested and the items recovered after a state trooper pulled over a speeding car and spotted the stolen loot.

In 2015, security at the governor's mansion was beefed up following two trespassing incidents. And last year, access to the House and Senate public galleries was limited when the Legislature isn't in session after a man was able to access the empty floor of the House by climbing under a brass railing and making his way along a marble ledge before dropping down onto the House rostrum.

"Vandalism and theft happen from time to time and it's always really disappointing, especially when it affects something of historic significance like a marker or a monument," said Linda Kent, a spokesperson for the Washington Department of Enterprise Services, which oversees the Capitol Campus.

Credit WA State Archives
WA State Archives
Isaac Ingalls Stevens was Washington's first territorial governor. A commemorative plaque marking the location of his house, on land that is now part of the state's Capitol Campus, was stolen earlier this month

According to a DAR history, the plaque marked the spot where in 1856 Gov. Stevens had a one-and-a-half-story home built for his family that was described as a "plain, square dwelling with a wide hall." Subsequent territorial governors, including Gov. Ferry, who later served as the first governor following statehood, also lived in the house. 

In a dramatic moment, the house was "razed in secret and amid controversy" in the dark of night in 1929 to make way for the current Capitol Campus, according to the DAR history. 

The estimated value of the stolen marker is $6,500. It has not been determined yet if it will be replaced.

However Stirling, the DAR historian, is still hopeful the plaque will be recovered. 

"We would be so very happy to get it back and I must say that we have had help from the public before and so I hope that this will happen again," Stirling said. 

If you have information about the stolen plaque, you're asked to contact Trooper Nick Casto at 360-596-3990

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."