Museum Receives Corrections-related Collection from Grand Traverse County (MI) Sheriff’s Office

As we celebrate National Correctional Officers and Employees Week (May 6-12), we’d like to share some interesting corrections-related artifacts the Museum recently acquired.

Last week, the Grand Traverse County (MI) Sheriff’s Office donated a unique collection, which includes a handcrafted contraband weapon confiscated from an inmate at the Grand Traverse County Correctional Facility in 1971; a makeshift bullet; other accessories and design sketches; and a print magazine with a bullet hole.

At the correctional facility, these items were voluntarily given up to corrections officers after an inmate test-fired the weapon into a magazine (an issue of Argosy, an American pulp magazine published from 1882-1978). After drawing up plans on scrap paper, the inmate crafted the body of the weapon out of paper, including cigarette paper and gum wrappers. A piece of his bed frame made the weapon’s barrel. The bullet is the metal, eraser-end of a pencil, and match-heads were smashed up to provide gunpowder. The bullet could be loaded into the barrel using a paper casing like a wad, similar to the way muzzles are loaded. When the inmate test-fired the “gun,” the “bullet” nearly punctured all the way through the magazine.

R0291.2 Pistol;
handmade contraband weapon made mainly of paper 
R0291.3 Bullet; metal eraser-end of a pencil used as bullet in handmade weapon
R0291.1 Sketches; pencil drawings of weapon design
Serial: Argosy with partial
bullet-hole at center

Officers tossed the weapon and related materials into a drawer where they remained until rediscovered in the 1990s. The items were then put on display in their academy training room, used to inform officers about how inmates may create contraband weapons using whatever time, tools, and materials they can get.

It is interesting to note that Grand Traverse County Correctional facility became a non-smoking facility in 2000; matches and cigarettes are no longer allowed.

This fascinating collection is one example of how the corrections profession will be highlighted in the National Law Enforcement Museum.