Cedar Creek vendors: Officials found potential pipe bomb at tent

Law enforcement officials investigated the scene Sunday at Cedar Creek Battlefield where they had dismantled a suspicious device. Photo courtesy of John Buchheister

Around 4 p.m. on Oct. 14, a member of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation’s board came up to John Buchheister and all of the other nearby vendors, who are also known as sutlers in reenacted Civil War settings.  Buchheister was about to start setting up a benefit auction for the foundation.

But the auction never happened.

“[The board member] was coming to all the sutlers saying we have to leave right away,” Buchheister said.

The board member, whose name Buchheister declined to provide, had found something that looked like it could be a pipe bomb.

Other vendors who attended Saturday’s event also said that someone placed what might have been a pipe bomb at the tent of one of the vendors. Buchheister and another vendor, Bill Wickham, both said the tent belonged to the owner of Haycock Wood Company, Arlene Scott.

“They make little camp stools and tables and little wooden toys for children to play with,” Wickham said. “What a nice place to put a bomb, where there will be a lot of kids come in.”

Scott has not responded to a request for comment.

In the days since this incident at the Cedar Creek Battlefield, officials have largely been silent. At 11 p.m. on Oct. 14, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release acknowledging that officials had been told about a “suspicious item” at 4 p.m. that day.

“Evacuations of the immediate area began and a safe zone was established,” the press release reads.

On Sunday, the Richmond Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a release stating that they were interested in talking to people who had information related to the event. (The contact number for the F.B.I. office is 804-261-1044.)

“On Saturday, October 14, 2017, a device was located on the grounds of the Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historic Park in Middletown, Virginia,” the F.B.I.’s press release states. “The device was located during an annual reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek. No persons were harmed and the device was rendered safe by the Virginia State Police.”

Since then, officials at the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office have declined to answer questions, referring to the F.B.I.’s press release. Dee Rybiski, a spokesperson for the F.B.I.’s Richmond Field Office declined to specify what type of device officials found, stating that the F.B.I. was still investigating the incident.

According to Buchheister, as soon as officials learned about the device, they began telling people to leave the area without grabbing any of their merchandise. The vendors calmly retreated, he said, and officials acted like they were following directions from a book.

“It’s kind of like the old drill that you were taught in high school, were taught in grade school,” he said. “That’s exactly what we did.”

Officials then pushed the vendors further and further away from the site of the device.

“They kept pushing us back 30 feet, then 50 feet, then 60 feet, then 100 feet,” Wickham said. “Then across the road. Then (they) carted us off to a high school.”

And then, the vendors waited for hours. Some vendors, Wickham said, were allowed back into their tents around 10:30 p.m.

Others had to wait much longer. Christopher Ackerman, who said his tent was right in front of the suspicious device, didn’t get into his tent until 11:22 a.m. Sunday.

Buchheister couldn’t reach his tent until 1:30 Sunday afternoon.

While the vendors waited to be let in, Buchheister said that law enforcement officials continually monitored the site. They didn’t only try to prevent a bomb from hurting people, he said; they tried to keep the vendors’ belongings safe.

“[Law enforcement officers] would not leave that site until each vendor–owner–would come to the tent, do a look around and say, ‘Yes, it’s OK,’ they had control of their business,” Buchheister said. “They held out the whole length of time.”

In the days since the incident, representatives from the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation called both Buchheister and Gregory Newson, who also had a tent in the vendors area. The foundation representatives, the two said, wanted vendors to know they were planning changes in future years.

Joe D’Arezzo, president of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, has not responded to a request for comment.

“I probably felt that they would do that anyway,” Newson said. “And I expressed to them that I’m going to be gladly coming back to participate in the future.”

Buchheister, too, said that he planned on coming back to Cedar Creek. Next year, he said, would be his 20th year attending the event.

He described the call from the foundation as an example of the organization’s attempts to learn from this year’s event.

“It’s like anything else,” he said. “You dissect it. What could we have done better? What could we have done different to make it a better, safer environment?”

Buchheister and Newson both said that they had received a call from representatives for the foundation prior to the Battle of Cedar Creek event as well. The foundation member told the vendors that the group had received a threatening letter. (The group also issued a statement on its website saying as much.)

“[The foundation] said, ‘We have to let you know,'” Buchheister said. ” ‘You don’t have to come. We’re not forcing you to come. If you want to come, you’re still allowed.'”

In the end, both vendors attended the event.

Ackerman said that those two will be far from the only people who will continue to attend Civil War reenactments; he, too, is planning on going to Cedar Creek next year.

“This in no way, shape or form was going to deter us from keeping history alive,” Ackerman said. “If they want to see America’s grit and determination, they targeted the right group, because they’re not going to be scared off that easily.”

Buchheister said that following the Cedar Creek incident, reenactors and vendors have come together to support one another.

“I run a retail business here in Gettysburg, and I don’t know why, but this town’s been alive this week,” Buchheister said. “It’s been packed. I don’t know, people are coming into the store and they’re buying. So has it hurt my business? I don’t think so. It’s only going to improve it.”