Huge Collection of Italian Artifacts Found in Berwyn

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Jun 9, 2009 2:40PM

Authorities discovered an artifact find worthy of Indiana Jones. But rather than a cave or an ancient temple, this collection was found in a house in Berwyn. Over 3,500 artifacts - including terracotta figurines, letters from popes, and a handwritten manuscript by Benito Mussolini - were discovered at the home of John Sisto when he died over two years ago. And now, after an extensive investigation, federal authorities have determined that around 1,600 of the artifacts - valued at between $5 million and $10 million - had been stolen in Italy and shipped to the U.S. to be sold. FBI spokesman Ross Rice said the stolen artifacts will be returned to Italy and added no criminal charges related to theft, transportation or possession of stolen artifacts would be filed against the Sisto family by U.S. authorities. Since the items were shipped out of Italy in violation of that nation's Cultural Property Laws, charges related to those violations rests with Italian authorities. The other 2,000 artifacts - which were of indeterminate origin - were returned to the Sisto family. According to the Tribune's report:

"There was stuff all over the house in boxes. The most valuable stuff from the Vatican was on the second floor in the attic," [Berwyn Police Chief William] Kushner said. "It just goes to show you, you never know what you'll find in a bungalow."

The artifacts and documents date back as far as the 4th Century B.C. and include parchments and manuscripts from Pope Paul III in the 1500s and Pope Paul V in the 1600s. A collection of small statues, known as the Canosa artifacts, is believed to have been taken from an Italian chapel where the objects were offered as devotions to God. Letters from Kings Charles V from 1534 and Ferdinand II from 1847 also were included.

There's more to the story, though, a sad one of a fall-out between father and son. When John's son Joseph learned that many of the artifacts were stolen, he confronted his father about it which lead to a rift between the two that lasted until John died. According to the Tribune, "When his father died, Joseph Sisto asked Berwyn police to enter the home with him, knowing that the thousands of artifacts would need to be investigated by authorities." Joseph, though, defends his father, saying he became too attached to the artifacts to sell them: "He fell in love with it to be honest. He thought it was beautiful. He thought it was history." [Tribune, WBBM]