The Curious Case of the Healdsburg Hammer Theft

It was the heist heard ’round the world. News of the theft of a giant hammer from the lawn of the Healdsburg Community Center last October spread swiftly, with TV stations from Boise to Boston running the story, as well as the New York Times and London’s Daily Mail. One couple told Healdsburg police officer Darryl Erkel they’d read about the (literally) grand theft in a local newspaper in Italy.

“It’s not a big story, but it has a sort of amusement factor,” muses Doug Unkrey, the ponytailed, 60-something artist/machinist/welder who created the 6-foot-tall, 21-foot-long objet.

In addition to spawning a series of hardware-themed puns (“Tools Steal Giant Hammer”; Unkrey “is offering a $1,000 reward to nail the thieves”), the incident raised awareness of, and appreciation for, the concentration of contemporary sculpture in the county. Unkrey’s “Hammer” was installed by the Voigt Family Sculpture Foundation, the nonprofit responsible for placing many such oversized, provocative, and whimsical pieces throughout the region.

“You go to a museum, you pay a fee to get in, you wander around, the guards say ‘Don’t touch,’” notes Judy Voigt, one of the foundation’s founders. “What we’ve done is put the art out where people are, so it becomes part of their daily lives.”

Until it disappears. In a commendable but futile attempt to lure “Hammer” back, anonymous locals drove a 3-foot-long nail into the grass at the community center. Onto the head of the nail was inscribed the word “Bait.”

At press time, alas, the hammer’s whereabouts remained unknown. “It’s essentially a cold case,” lamented Officer Erkel. Amused though he was by that attempt to “bait” the thieves, he would rather have the hammer than the nail.

Doug Unkrey is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the hammer’s recovery. Anyone with information can contact Healdsburg Police Officer Darryl Erkel at 707-431-3377 or police@ci.healdsburg.ca.us.

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