A 362 kg hammer went missing in California, and no one’s been able to find it yet

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A photo provided by the City of Healdsburg of the hammer sculpture weighing 800 pounds that disappeared from the community center lawn in Healdsburg in early October. A photo provided by the City of Healdsburg of the hammer sculpture weighing 800 pounds that disappeared from the community centre lawn in Healdsburg in early October. (Source: The New York Times)

As residents of Kansas City, Missouri, revel in the recovery of a sorely missed “stolen colon,” locals in Healdsburg, California, are still holding out hope for their own oversize oddity. For more than three weeks, authorities have scoured the city of 11,000 tucked in California wine country, hoping to find an 800-pound hammer.

Like the giant, inflatable intestine in Kansas City, the hammer is hard to miss. It is 21 feet long; its head is about 5 feet tall; and it had been securely displayed on the lawn of the city’s community centre since spring.

For months, residents drove by and got out of their cars to take pictures with the art installation, which officials said quickly captured the small city’s imagination. But sometime on the weekend of October 6 and 7, it vanished. Since then, the city has had a mystery on its hands.

“There are no leads at this time,” Officer Darryl Erkel of the Healdsburg Police Department said Tuesday. “We’re taking it seriously,” he continued, adding that the hammer heist was potentially a felony offence. “Who knows what the motivation is?”

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At first, the authorities wondered if it was a prank. The high school’s homecoming festivities took place the weekend the hammer disappeared, and some believed it would soon reappear.

But reached by The New York Times days later, Erkel bemoaned that it had not shown up.

The crime left residents wondering not only who had stolen the hammer but also how. Erkel said police believe the thieves had to “uproot” the hammer from the ground and then dragged it about 100 feet.

Several people would have been required to lift the hammer onto the back of a truck, he added. Either that, or a crane was involved. (Indeed, video on Facebook shows a crane straining to lift the hammer onto city property earlier this year.)

All of which leads to more questions: Why would someone want a giant hammer this badly — and where would someone even put it?

“I highly doubt it’s in someone’s personal art exhibit,” Erkel previously quipped.

Then, a twist.

Sometime on Oct. 20 or 21 — another weekend — someone pounded a 3-foot metal nail into the site where the sculpture had been. Etched on the head of the nail? “BAIT.”

A photo provided by the City of Healdsburg of a three-foot metal nail A photo provided by the City of Healdsburg of a three-foot metal nail A photo provided by the City of Healdsburg of a three-foot metal nail that was recently pounded into the ground on the sculpture site in Healdsburg. (Source: The New York Times)

“The initial reaction was ‘huh?’” Rhea Borja, a Healdsburg city spokeswoman, said Tuesday. “Were we being goaded by the people who took the hammer?”

They were not. Last week, a local metalworker confessed that he had planted the nail, telling The Healdsburg Tribune that it had been an unsuccessful attempt to lure the hammer back to its proper place.

“It was supposed to attract the hammer,” Erkel said of the nail, adding that it had since been removed. In the meantime, the artist who created the hammer, Doug Unkrey, is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to its recovery, officials said.

Many are hopeful; others are upset, and a few feel as if they have been unwitting participants in a multi-act performance. With a new roundabout scheduled to be unveiled in town — which officials noted was a “very big deal” and “years in the making” — some residents are half expecting the hammer to materialize at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“It’s a fun thing for the community to talk about,” Borja said. “There are so many derisive things going on in the world. This is light enough for people to be able to commiserate.”

Indeed, in a gesture of support, Healdsburg’s city manager was recently given a signed hammer (of normal size) by other city managers to replace the one the city has lost.

Told Tuesday of the stolen colon’s triumphant return in Kansas City, Mark Themig, Healdsburg’s community services director, perked up.

“If and, hopefully, when the hammer returns, we’re going to do something big,” Themig said. “We’ve got some ideas. That’s all I can say.”

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