Slave shackles displayed in Germantown Avenue pawn shop raise customer’s concern

Marc Leonard’s sister gently nudged her brother with her elbow when she spotted Marcus von Heppinstall making his way to the front counter of their family’s pawn shop. They knew why he was there.

Heppinstall had twice asked for Leonard after he came across a rusted pair of slave shackles in one of the Germantown business’ glass display cases. A small raised plaque on one reads “Property of Georgetown County Plantation Police.” The words “Negro woman or child” appear on the other.

He had first laid eyes on the shackles while he was getting some old coins appraised at Leonard’s Pawn Shop & Jewelry, located on Germantown Avenue near Price Street.

As customers milled around the store, Heppinstall, who is black, and Leonard, who is white, spoke quietly off to the side. Heppinstall tried his best not to let his irritation get the best of him. The longtime resident questioned the owner’s decision to display the shackles in a predominantly black neighborhood.

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Were they a historical reminder of a brutal past that should never be repeated? he asked.

Leonard nodded and said, “That’s why they’re there.”

“It’s a part of history,” he told a reporter afterwards of the shackles he believes to be real. “They should be shared.”

Though satisfied with the response, Heppinstall told Leonard that his intentions would be better understood if he stuck something inside the case that spelled them out. Leonard had no qualms with writing up an accompanying explanation.

“My results are better than expected,” said Heppinstall upon leaving the shop. “I’ll check back, but I know he’ll do it.”

Though seemingly small, Heppinstall felt the need to approach Leonard because he saw the shackles as emblematic of a neighborhood that has steadily declined. He pointed specifically to the deterioration of Germantown’s commercial corridors which, at one time, equaled those in Center City.

“There was a time when you couldn’t litter on Chelten Avenue. You got a $25 fine if you spit. We had a Thanksgiving Day parade,” said Heppinstall. “I want to bring awareness not only to [Leonard] but to people that are around that allow this to happen.”

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