We hear a lot about how there are two Americas these days, but sometimes the Rust Belt is just like us. When you think patron of the arts you probably conjure images of New Yorkers and Angelenos in their lofty, Ivory towers of privilege, where they do pretentious stuff like not slam opioids all day while playing Nintendo. But over in Harrisburg, Penn., being a broke city very, very far from the Western sections of our country did not keep its longest serving Mayor from attempting to start an Old West Museum that no one asked for and using it to pilfer artifacts for the never-completed public project. Take that, elitist media types. It’s like seeing Beyonce at Koo Koo Roo.
The tale is inspiring. The fact that no one seemed to share in his dream of making a less disturbing Westworld on the banks of the Susquehanna did not deter Stephen R. Reed. Nope. He employed that coal-mining country grit in every step of his totally un-mandated, batshit quest to built another Gene Autry Museum in Pennsylvania. And then he got really carried away, and purloined more than 500 items that were slated for the non-existent institution and paid for with public funds, storing them (accidentally! he claims) at his house.
Reed, who served as Mayor of Harrisburg for 28 years, took a plea deal yesterday, according to the New York Times, admitting he spent millions in taxpayer money on artifacts for the museum, which, again, was never built. Reed, who pleaded guilty to two felonies, could spend a maximum of nine months in jail, the paper said, a sentence that is practically being dragged behind a horse and killed in an harsh but noble meting out of extra-judicial punishment. Wonder how he feels about the Old West now!
But it wasn’t really his fault about the felonies, he said. Reed told the Times it was a packing error that led to the collection of letters and photos of the Old West ending up in his possession. We’ve all experienced a packing error, especially on the coasts, where we’ve never actually moved any of our belongings ourselves.
“My guess is they were thrown in with a bunch of similar things in the haste of getting everything packed,” he said of the misappropriated artifacts. “The process of packing was done under my supervision and I therefore must take responsibility for the items to which I am pleading.” Not sure you really plead to items? But whatever. The point is, he is taking responsibility, unlike any coastal dwelling person ever, and gearing up to spend that grueling 3/4 of a year in minimum security lockup.
Reed, 67, lost his last bid for reelection in 2010; the city of Harrisburg filed for bankruptcy in 2011.