In the 1990s Harrisburg, PA mayor Stephen Reed envisioned a campus of museums dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of artifacts going back to colonial times. To this end, the city spent millions collecting pieces from across the country. The idea, as I understand it, is that the city would profit in the long run through the tourist dollars the museums would attract. In 2001 the National Civil War Museum opened in Reservoir Park. Less than an hour’s ride from Gettysburg, the museum is worth adding to one’s itinerary. It is a beautiful, modern facility with a collection few others can match. The scope is equally impressive, covering the entire Civil War era from 1850 to 1876. In 2009 it became one of the Smithsonian affiliates I mentioned the other day. Sadly the plans for the additional museums never came to fruition, the economic crises and budget deficits of recent years having rendered these plans untenable. Now Harrisburg has commissioned a New York auction house to sell a signifacant portion of the city’s historical collections to pay off the municipal debt. The sale will be held across eight days this coming July after a full inventory.

I do not know enough about the city’s fiscal troubles, though I am sure they are severe. These are tough choices, but I hope city officials are thinking things through. They held a similar auction in 2007 that netted the city $1.4 million. It is not clear how large the city’s holdings will remain after this 2012 sale. During New York City’s darkest years in the 1970s some New York institutions resisted the temptation to sell despite the obvious short term gains. Today, these museums and repositories are enjoying a renaissance of record crowds despite Gotham’s own very real financial difficulties. Something to consider.

(image/Confederate Bowie (top) and Naval knives in NCWM collection, Claire H.)