TWO PHILADELPHIA LEGISLATORS OPPOSE CIVIL WAR MUSEUM MOVE
HARRISBURG, February 15, 2001 – A priceless collection of Union Civil War artifacts housed in Philadelphia is in grave risk unless steps are taken quickly to protect it, state Senator Vincent J. Fumo and state Rep. James Roebuck, (both D-Philadelphia) said today.
The Board of Directors of the Civil War Library and Museum is proposing to transfer all or part of the collection outside of Philadelphia, including much of it to a new museum planned in Richmond, Va. This transfer could result in the dissolution of the collection, or the degradation of its historical significance. It might also be illegal, the lawmakers believe.
"This would be a major cultural and historical loss for the city of Philadelphia," Fumo said.
The Civil War Library and Museum, located at 18th and Pine Streets, is a repository of donated and loaned military artifacts and documents, most of which belonged to Union officers from Philadelphia. It includes items from General George Gordon Meade, commander of the Union forces at Gettysburg, who lived near the current museum site. It also includes items from Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant, both of whom were northern generals.
"The original purpose of the collection was to remind future generations of the sacrifice that Philadelphia veterans made in their effort to preserve the Union. Its significance and unique historical association with Philadelphia cannot be overemphasized," said Roebuck.
Fumo and Roebuck said they have doubts about whether the collection can legally be split, or moved either permanently or temporarily from Philadelphia.
The museum was founded in 1888 by the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), an organization of Union officers and their descendants which assembled the collection. It turned operation of the museum over to a nonprofit board in 1986, but might still have legal rights of ownership to the collection.
The current Commander-in-Chief of MOLLUS, Major Robert J. Bateman, said: "The original charter for the CWLM stated that it was to be in Philadelphia. The Union officers and their families who gave or loaned items to the collection thought that those items would remain forever in Philadelphia, and we do not believe it is legally or morally acceptable to divide or move the collection."
Hope Fox Coates, the great-great-granddaughter of General Meade, speaking for the Meade family of Philadelphia, agreed with Bateman.
"My great-great-grandfather commanded Pennsylvania troops. He lived, died and is buried in Philadelphia. When our family gave his possessions to the museum, we did so with the understanding that they were safe here in Philadelphia along with those items of the men he served with," she said.
The president of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, David Moltke-Hansen, noted that "the collection complements the Society's rich holdings of Meade and other Civil War participants from Pennsylvania and adjacent states." The Union League of Philadelphia, he added, also holds important, related materials.
"Clearly," he concluded, "to take the Civil War Library and Museum collection out of this context would reduce its research and associational values in many ways."
Fumo and Roebuck said the decision to divide the collection and send portions out of state represents a desperate attempt by the current management to offset its neglect of the institution’s financial health. As early as 1992, the CWLM’s own internal report concluded that the rate at which its operating endowment was being invaded was placing the museum on a "financial disaster course."
"I believe this is a problem entirely of the board’s own making," Fumo said. "The board members have known of their weak financial condition for at least eight years. It is difficult for me to believe they were unable, during that time, to raise funds from the historical community in this city to preserve the collection."
"I seriously question the commitment of the museum’s management to maintaining this historically important collection in the city," Roebuck said. "As recently as November, the board’s own president was quoted as saying that ‘clearly Philadelphia is not a Civil War town.’ "
Moltke-Hansen disagreed strongly with that dismissive assessment: "Many of our researchers at the Historical Society come to use our Civil War holdings. And the Civil War should be a central part of what the tourist explores on future visits to America's heritage capital."
Fumo said his objective is to ensure that the CWLM management is operating the institution in a manner consistent with its original purpose. It is of paramount importance to determine if the CWLM has fulfilled its fiduciary responsibility and is taking basic precautions to maintain the collection in a prudent manner.
"I believe it is necessary that a full and detailed cataloguing of the collection, and a provenance [or acquisition trace] of each item, be completed. I intend to commit the resources to ensure this takes place," Fumo said.
Fumo and Roebuck promised to oppose aggressively any attempt to move the collection outside of Philadelphia.
"This was a gift of Philadelphia’s Union veterans to the residents of the city," Roebuck said.
"It is inconceivable that those veterans and their descendants would want their personal belongings moved to Richmond – the former capital of the Confederacy," Fumo added.
Former state Rep. Herbert Keyser Zearfoss, now Pennsylvania Commander of MOLLUS and descendant of one of the three original founders of the organization, thinks the historical value of the artifacts and records is in their unification in one collection.
"Dividing the artifacts or moving any portion from Philadelphia destroys a unique collection," he said.
MOLLUS was founded in Philadelphia in 1865. Members have included United States Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Herbert C. Hoover, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In an Associated Press story published November 21, 2000, Randall Miller, a professor of American History at St. Joseph’s University, called the CWLM’s holdings an "astonishing collection" and said there was tremendous interest in keeping it in Philadelphia.
Brent Glass, executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, said in the same story that his agency would oppose the collection leaving the state because of its historical significance.
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