Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Honest Abe Meets Crooked "Historian"

Leave it to the State of Maryland to once again attract national attention for unflattering news (although you can’t really blame any of the usual political suspects for this development).
As reported in the Baltimore Sun, Huffington Post, and elsewhere, two guys were arrested for trying to walk off with documents worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Maryland Historical Society. The documents included significant pieces signed by President Lincoln as well as other valuable examples of Americana and presidential ephemera.
Further, the alleged quarterback behind this sordid scheme is a guy named Barry Landau. Landau calls himself “America’s presidential historian.” People who gives themselves such inflated titles are usually the most undeserving of them. That’s a title I’d give to David McCullough, Michael Beschloss, Douglas Brinkley, Robert Caro, and others who have earned it through their scholarship. Still, I expect that none of these eminent, deserving historians would try to bestow it onto themselves.

By comparison, this Landau guy is a memorabilia pilferer pretending to be an historian.
There’s nothing wrong with collecting historical memorabilia, of course. I have for most of my life. This guy gives us all a bad name. He’s to presidential memorabilia enthusiasts what Bellocq from Raiders of the Lost Ark was to archeologists.
Prior to this incident, despite being a collector and a reader of historical biographies, I never even heard of “America’s presidential historian.”
When I learned about the theft, this situation elicited a strong response from me on two levels.
First, as I said, I am a collector myself. I have a sense of reverence for historical artifacts dating back to the first time I saw the Declaration of Independence up close in 1976. What these guys did is worse than grand larceny. It is a crime against history itself.
Second, despite growing up in Maryland, and the fact that I once dated a woman who worked at the Maryland Historical Society, I never knew they had artifacts of this caliber in their collection.
Now that the crime has been foiled, I hope this will inspire state leaders to upgrade security systems and procedures at the Maryland Historical Society.  If the state cannot afford it, then MHS should begin an aggressive fundraising drive with that goal in mind.
Once this has been done, I hope that MHS will publicize the existence of these treasures, as well as put them safely on display. I would love to see documents of this quality and not have to drive to Washington or attend a private auction to do so.
With the special legislative session approaching in Annapolis, I hope Governor O’Malley and state legislators will take action to prevent this kind of brazen attempt to rob Marylanders of their historical legacy from ever happening again. If ever a cause was worthy of bipartisan cooperation, this is it.
And, if there is any justice in the world, I hope that Landau is forced to sell his present collection in order to afford his legal bills and any court-imposed fines. Just tell me when the auction is. I need a new Lincoln, anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Richard, if you look at the movie objectively, and use accepted archeological norms as your yardstick, Indiana Jones was the Barry Landau of ROTLA. I'm just saying. :)