Since the opening of the new Svalbard Museum, a rifle with a jammed cartridge has told a dramatic story from its showcase. When the museum made an inquiry to The Governor of Svalbard about getting its weapons collection in an orderly fashion, it was told only sealed weapons can be stowed away in the exhibition.
"If we go in and do a procedure that seals it, the historical value deteriorates," said Sander Solnes, the museum's curator. "Neither we nor others can imagine that this weapon can be functional again."
He said if the governor refuses to let the museum keep the weapon unsecured in the exhibition, the alternative becomes preserving it in the museum's magazine.
"Four people died, probably due to the jammed cartridge," Solnes said. "This rifle is helping to give the story life."
In December of 1921, trapper Georg Nilsen was supposed to visit the German research station at Kvadehuken. He did not show up and two of the station's members decided to look for him. They went out in an open boat in complete darkness. They became stuck in the brash ice, took off under their own power and ended up in Kobbefjorden at Danskøya. There they managed to stay alive until June, but nobody discovered them. The station leader realized that something had happened to the two and sent people to search for them along the coast. During the summer he took his life, probably because of a bad conscience.
In 1965, the remains of a skeleton and a rifle were found. The assumption was that it was Georg Nilsen. Nobody can say for sure why he died, but there was a jammed cartridge in the gun.
"It may be a polar bear surprised him and the cartridge got stuck while he was defending himself," Solnes said.
Svalbard Museum has 37 weapons in its collection, as well as some ammunition.
"We have everything from simple homemade shooting devices from the early winter-overs to automatic weapons from the war days and common hunting weapons," the curator said.
After receiving an answer from the governor, Svalbard Museum submitted an application for storing guns in compliance with regulations. The museum is asking if unsecured weapons in special cases can be exhibited if the weapon cannot be used due to damage, or made unusable by removing the bolt or similar items. In addition, the weapons will be secured, attached or inserted in a mount in such a way that it will take great effort to dislodge them.
Two spring-gun boxes
Today the museum has three unsecured weapons in its exhibition. The other two weapons that are in the same situation as Georg Nilsen's rifle are in spring-guns crates. One has a homemade firing device.
"It is more a plumbing work than a weapon, but technically one could fire shots with it," Solnes said.
The other is a mass-produced weapon.
"It is also so rusted that it is not capable of functioning," Solnes said.
Several of the museum's weapon are already sealed.
"It is done with the weapons that do not lose their historical value," the curator said.
"Sealing is a procedure that can not be undone. The weapons that tell an important story and can no longer be used, we want to keep as they are."
He adds the museum will nevertheless abide by what the governor says.
"The case is for the time being undramatic," Solnes said.
Sending a weapons expert
On Monday, the governor's office examined the weapons in the exhibition and the magazine.
"We were seeing if they were stored defensively and they were," said Sidsel Svarstad, a police chief inspector.
She added it is a requirement that the weapons in the exhibition are not functional.
"That is not always easy to see," she said. "Therefore, we we will bring in a weapons expert to assess that."
After the weapons experts has reached a conclusion, the governor will send another letter to the museum with the terms of how the weapons must be stored.
"The most important thing is to produce documentation of the collection so that we have it if, for example, there is a burglary," said Magnus H. Rognhaug, a legal advisor for the governor.