Meador Confided in Friend About Smuggled Medieval Art
DALLAS (AP) _ A U.S. soldier accused of smuggling medieval treasures out of Germany near the end of World War II confided to a longtime friend that he took the trove, a newspaper reported today.
For years before his death in 1980, Joe T. Meador was torn over whether to keep the artwork or return it, Owen Hunsaker, Meador’s college classmate in the 1930s, told The Dallas Morning News.
″When he looked at it he’d get a dreary, transported look on his face because he knew what he had - he loved it - and he couldn’t part with it,″ Hunsaker was quoted as saying.
″He struggled with that a lot,″ said Hunsaker, a 71-year-old retired airline executive who lives in New York.
Hunsaker said his friend told him he found the treasures in a cave in 1945 in Quedlinburg, now in East Germany, and had simply wrapped them in brown paper and used an Army post office to ship them to his home in Whitewright, 60 miles north of Dallas.
Hunsaker is the first person to explain how Meador allegedly discovered the artwork and moved it. Reports about the case first surfaced in The New York Times two weeks ago.
The treasures included manuscripts, crucifixes and ancient coins, which church officials said were gifts to the Quedlinburg Cathedral from Germany’s earliest kings.
Lawyers for the Lutheran Church of Quedlinburg contend that Meador stole the treasures while serving as an Army lieutenant among troops that occupied the area in April 1945.
Meador left the cache to his brother and sister, Jack Meador and Jane Meador Cook. They are disputing the church’s claim of ownership and trying to keep the items, which are worth millions.
The Meador family is asking the church’s permission to display the treasures at the Dallas Museum of Art or the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth while the lawsuit over ownership is pending, the News reported today.
″We have not as yet spoken with either museum,″ the family’s attorney, Randal Mathis, told the newspaper. ″We think that they would be appropriate places for safekeeping.″
Hunsaker was in the Pacific during World War II while his friend fought in Germany. He said that during a visit to Whitewright in 1948, Meador showed him artwork that he said he had wrapped in brown paper, marked as ″old books″ and deposited in a mailbox at Army headquarters.
He said Meador told him that he found the artwork in 1945 in a cave filled with treasures of gold and silver, and filled his Army jacket with ″as many treasures as he could hold″ before returning to his headquarters.
U.S. Army reports indicate the treasures were removed from a mine shaft near Quedlinburg within three days after Allied troops occupied the area in April 1945.
Hunsaker, the News reported, said Meador did not tell him whether anyone helped him remove the artwork or whether he returned to the cave later to get more items.
He said they sat for hours paging through a manuscript with an elaborate cover of gold encrusted with jewels, and highlighted with a silver figure of Jesus Christ with his hand risen in benediction.
″It was unbelievable,″ Hunsaker said. ″I knew I was touching ancient history.″
Hunsaker said he frequently tried but failed to persuade Meador to turn over the artwork to authorities.
″Joe knew he had a hot potato,″ said Hunsaker. ″He couldn’t let everybody know about it, and he certainly couldn’t sell it.″
Hunsaker said he last talked to Meador a few years before he died.