Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Aviation Artifacts -- Lost, Stolen or Strayed

No big surprise, since the former chief of collections was indicted. But a recent inventory of the Air Force Museum revealed that it's missing thousands of artifacts, including the wooden pattern the Wrights used to make their first airplane engine, as well as treasures from POW camps and the astronaut program.

On one occasion, Harris said, he and another employee visited the "vault" where guns, swords, knives and other items are stored. "It looked like a hurricane hit it," Harris said. "I was shocked. Stuff was pulled out all over the floor."

The Air Force Museum has formed a review panel to deal with the problem.

By the way, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum also had this problem a few years ago. The militaria market is large and lucrative. Others may remember the theft of moon rocks, also for sale to bidders. Here's a good post about both, which includes some wonderful quotes from Barbara Weitbrech: evil that we in the museum community see too often--a member of the inner circle who goes spectacularly bad.

One reason the NASM staff is reacting so strongly [to the moon rock thefts] is that we had our own Thad
Roberts. A member of the curatorial staff--not a curator, though he described himself as one--was stealing the artifacts in his care and selling them at auction. The first we knew of it was when FBI agents showed up at the Registrar's office. The offender spent six months in prison, but to our amazement he continued to work in the aerospace museum community. Through sheer force of personality he convinced prospective employers, not to mention his wife, that the charges against him were fabricated--the result of a personal
vendetta by the Smithsonian administration spawned, apparently, by jealousy.

...His life seemed dedicated to proving to the world at large "the wonderfulness of ME!" And the world was mostly convinced, though not as fast or as fully as our would-be curator had hoped. In the end, his raids on the collection seem to have been as much about revenge as the need for money. Tellingly, he defended his thefts by saying that the items were not being properly cared for. This is an interesting justification, considering that the parts of the collection raided were his responsibility.

...But disillusionment is ultimately egotism. Disillusionment is the world not living up to your expectations. It is the conviction that the world is not worthy of your labor, your love and integrity--that it is not worthy of the wonderfulness of YOU.

You can also learn about similar problems at Ethics and the Archaeologist.


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