RICHMOND TOWN, Staten Island (WABC) -- A portrait of a notable Staten Islander and an original daughter of the American Revolution was returned to Historic Richmond Town after it was stolen more than 50 years ago.
On Nov. 9, 1970, a cleaner arrived to work at the Historical Museum to find several items were missing, including the portrait of Ann Totten.
In June of 1971, a portrait of Totten's husband and some silver were recovered from an apartment in Brooklyn rented to 23-year-old Billy Joe Redman.
The items were returned to Historic Richmond Town, but Totten's portrait was never found.
However, in October of 2021, officials received an email from an art collector in California, Gordon Fine, who noticed the portrait listed on a local auction house website.
After some research, he discovered the portrait of Totten made its way to California and was about to be auctioned.
"It is rare to have stolen artwork returned, especially after 50 years," said Historic Richmond Town CEO, Jessica b. Phillips. "Historic Richmond Town is deeply grateful for good Samaritans like Mr. Fine and Mr. Gromadzki who were critical in the return of this local treasure. We are truly satisfied to have more closure on the cold case of the Ann Totten portrait."
The FBI's Art Crimes division was notified as well as local police. The FBI removed the portrait from the auction house, who was not aware it had been stolen decades ago.
Gregory Gromadzki, a retired art restorer, was unaware of the piece's history and gave it to the local auction house. He had been contracted two decades ago to bring the portrait back to life, but nobody claimed the finished work.
It was a team effort to bring Totten back home in May.
"Tottenville is named after them so they have a big big wall, on on Staten Island," said collections manager Carli DeFillo. "You see their names on streets on buildings, they're kind of everywhere."
She got a few bumps and bruises on the frame, but her story doesn't end there.
The portrait will be on display in April 2023 at the Historical Museum as part of an exhibit dedicated to Totten.
"If she isn't hanging on the wall, then there's no kid to ask the question," Phillips said. "So it's just really important to have that material culture accessible to people."
Submit a tip or story idea to Eyewitness News