By Stephen J. Kotz
Thanks to some serendipitous timing, the heirs of Daniel F. Mulvihill of Sag Harbor, whose career in the United States Navy spanned the Spanish-American War to World War II, have been reunited with his officer’s sword, which was stolen from his home on Brick Kiln Road nearly 50 years ago.
The sword, which Mr. Mulvihill purchased in 1917 when he was commissioned as a temporary ensign during World War I after 18 years in the Navy, turned up in December on propertyroom.com, an online police auction site, where it had been offered for sale by the East Hampton Town Police Department.
“We are thrilled to get it back,” said one of Mr. Mulvihill’s granddaughters, Mary Mulvihill Pecoraro of Stoneham, Massachusetts.
The ceremonial sword has a sharkskin handle, USN on the gold-plated hilt, and D.F. Mulvihill engraved on its blade.
Although it’s a mystery where the sword was for most of the past 48 years, for the last five years it sat, unclaimed, in the police department’s property room, according to Officer Raymond Rau.
Police confiscated it after arresting two men in connection with a series of burglaries in the Barnes Hole neighborhood of Amagansett. “We don’t know where they got it because nobody ID’ed it,” Officer Rau said. “For all we know, they could have gotten it from a pawn shop.”
With unclaimed property beginning to pile up, Officer Rau said he organized a consignment of some 900 items, from watches to video games, which he shipped off to propertyroom.com in early December.
Officer Rau, who has managed the department’s property room since 2014, said he had examined the sword, but had never noticed that it was engraved “D.F. Mulvihill” on the blade, perhaps because it was obscured by tarnish.
But Thomas Mulvihill, a Florida man, who saw it online and placed a bid on it, did notice. Mr. Mulvihill is a member of Clan Mulvihill — the family is a recognized clan in its native Ireland — and he contacted the clan’s chieftain, who just happens to be Mary Ann Mulvihill-Decker, of Sag Harbor. She, in turn, notified her cousins, Ms. Pecoraro and Carol Mulvihill Ahlers of North Haven, of the find.
“We were going to bid on it ourselves, but then it was, ‘Wait a minute. Bid on it? It’s stolen!’” said Ms. Ahlers.
The sisters had little time to waste. They came upon the auction on December 26, just hours before it was going to close. Ms. Ahlers opened an account with propertyroom.com and notified the company that the sword belonged to her family. In the meantime, Ms. Pecoraro, who has a similar sword that also belonged to her grandfather, emailed photos of that one as proof of ownership to the company.
Within minutes of receiving those photos, Ms. Pecoraro said the auction house agreed to pull the sword from the auction, no doubt disappointing the person who had placed a $354 bid on it. The sword was sent back to East Hampton police who then arranged to have it returned to the family.
But that doesn’t answer why Mr. Mulvihill had two nearly identical swords.
Ms. Pecoraro said her grandfather was fastidious. “His uniforms were always impeccable,” Ms. Pecoraro said. “And if he was entitled to a sword, he was going to have it.” She believes he purchased his own sword before his commissioning and then his gunnery crew on the U.S.S. Rhode Island, the battleship he was stationed on during World War I, surprised him with a near identical one as a gift.
Ironically, that sword was also among the items that were stolen in 1968 from her grandfather’s home. It and several other items were discovered in the woods by a hunter not long after the burglary, and the recovered sword eventually ended up on Ms. Pecoraro’s mantel.
Mr. Mulvihill, the son of a hatter in Danbury, Connecticut, entered the Navy as “an apprentice boy” when he was only 15 or 16 just a year after the Spanish-American War, Ms. Pecoraro said. The special program sought to create a bridge between the navy’s enlisted men, drawn from the ranks of the working class, and officers who were educated at the Naval Academy. Apprentice boys were given a top-notch education, based on the English model, and Ms. Pecoraro said she had a Connecticut newspaper article that said her grandfather was first enlisted man from that state to become an officer.
During his long career, Mr. Mulvihill, who retired with the rank of lieutenant commander, was stationed on more than a dozen ships, including the U.S.S. Oklahoma, which was later sunk by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.
Before the United States entered World War I, Mr. Mulvihill was sent to Sag Harbor, where he served as the Navy’s liaison to the Bliss Torpedo factory on the village’s waterfront.
When he arrived in Sag Harbor, Mr. Mulvihill’s train passed by the home of Anna McDonough on Glover Street. He saw her in her backyard and was smitten, Ms. Ahlers said, vowing then and there he would marry her.
He made good on his promise, and the couple put down roots in Sag Harbor, eventually buying the farm on Brick Kiln Road, which is now a Southampton Town nature preserve, and raising three children, Daniel Jr., William, and Delores (Zebrowski).
Mr. Mulvihill remained in the Navy until 1933, but with World War II on the horizon, he reenlisted in 1939 and was stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he served as an ordnance superintendent, eventually overseeing the placement of the big guns on the U.S.S. Missouri, the last American battleship to be completed, and the ship on which the Japanese would surrender, ending World War II.