The missing Bunker Hill Monument guestbooks will once again be under the shadow of the Monument – after having nearly been lost again in an antiquities auction last week.
The three guestbooks were from the 1860s during the Civil War era, when the Bunker Hill Monument Association still operated the Monument as a visitor’s attraction – a Monument they built with private funds and donations. Guests would sign the books when they visited the Monument and the books had been filed away. The current books had notable signatures in them from Civil War military figures and even First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. While Monument Association President Arthur Hurley, and Board members Paul Lane and Julie Hall, believed they were the property of the Association, there was no proof to that and there was no idea when or how they disappeared – due to the fact that so many artifacts have been spread out or stored or confiscated during the changes in oversight from the Association to the Commonwealth to the National Parks Service.
Hall and Hurley had instituted a fundraising drive to try to become the highest bidder at the University Archives online auction, but there just wasn’t enough time to get the money. Hall said last week she had given up on the cause, and the Association had resigned to begin cataloging their archives and artifacts more carefully going forward – making sure nothing gets lost and they have some funding to re-claim other long-lost items that might come up at auction.
That’s when University Archives President John Reznikoff stepped in, feeling bad for the Monument Association and wanting to try to right a wrong done long ago.
“I felt bad for them,” he said. “I had to make a few calls, but I wanted to get it to them…I thought it would be good to try to arrange what happened, and it did happen.”
The books had a top bid of $17,000 as the auction was winding down, and Reznikoff reached out to a top Americana dealer in White Plains, NY – Seth Kaller. Kaller was apprised of the situation and he reached out to the bidder, who was a philanthropist from New York with a big interest in history.
Kaller said his client didn’t hesitate at all to say ‘yes’ to returning the books.
Kaller said the guestbooks would return to Charlestown soon, and the Monument Association has said they hope to put them on display June 17 for the Battle of Bunker Hill Day ceremonies.
“I’m very happy it ended well and in this way,” said Reznikoff, who had been skeptical of the effort at first due to some scams run on Americana dealers in the past. “It was a last-minute effort and I’m very happy the way it turned out. I’ve been on the other side of this too. I’m a member of the Board at the Wilton (CT) Historical Society. Wilton’s Revolutionary War history is very, very rich too…I am sympathetic to them because I’ve been in their shoes. I really understand.”