Mental Floss

6 People Who Stole from the National Archives (Besides Nicolas Cage)

Scott Allen
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The National Archives and Record Administration preserves billions of government and historical documents in facilities throughout the country, including 12 presidential libraries. As you might imagine, balancing the responsibility of keeping the documents secure while also making them increasingly accessible to the public is a challenge. No one, save for Nicolas Cage's character in National Treasure, has managed to smuggle the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, or Constitution out of the Charters of Freedom Rotunda at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, but other important documents and artifacts have been stolen. Here are six thieves who were caught.

1. Sandy Berger

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2. Charles Merrill Mount

Mount, an art historian and portrait painter, was arrested in 1987 for stealing documents from the National Archives and Library of Congress. The 59-year-old sold 25 rare documents, including a 1904 letter signed by novelist Henry James, to a Boston bookstore owner for $20,000. The bookstore owner became suspicious and contacted the FBI when Mount offered to sell him a collection of Civil War documents, including three letters written by Abraham Lincoln, a few months later. Federal officials were waiting to arrest Mount when he delivered the documents, which had been stolen from the National Archives. FBI officials later uncovered a safety deposit box belonging to Mount filled with other stolen documents. Mount, who published biographies of John Singer Sargent and Claude Monet, and spent extensive time researching in the Library of Congress, was charged with stealing 400 documents and sentenced to five years in prison. U.S. District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson had some choice words for Mount, who maintained his innocence throughout the trial, at his sentencing in 1989: "Never in my experience have I met a more arrogant man with your intellect," Robinson bellowed. "What a miserable waste of a life." Mount died in 1995.

3. Howard Harner

Harner, a 68-year-old history buff and collector from Staunton, Va., was sentenced to two years in prison, two years probation, and fined $10,000 in 2005 after pleading guilty to stealing more than 100 Civil War-era documents from the National Archives over a six-year period. If not for the sharp eyes of Gettysburg historian Wayne E. Motts, Harner may have stolen much more. While browsing Civil War memorabilia on eBay, Motts came across an auction for a letter dated June 4, 1861. The letter was signed by Lewis A. Armistead, a U.S. Army officer at the time, who would rise to the rank of Confederate general and die at the Battle of Gettysburg. Motts, who had examined the very same letter at the National Archives 10 years earlier, led investigators to Harner. Among the documents Harner stole by concealing them in his clothing were letters signed by Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, and George A. Custer. In some instances, Harner cut the signatures off of the documents and sold them separately.

4. Denning McTague

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5. Evelyn Lincoln

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6. Matt Whitmer

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While his classmates were admiring the original copy of the Declaration of Independence during an eighth-grade field trip to the National Archives Building in 1996, Matt Whitmer stole his first kiss with his girlfriend, Leigh Lacy. Last July, Whitmer took Lacy back to the same spot and got down on one knee. "It was 12 years ago we had our first kiss. I love you and want 12 million more. "¦Will you marry me?" he asked. National Archives staffers, who knew about the proposal ahead of time and had gathered in the rotunda, cheered after Lacy said yes.

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