The New York State Attorney General and the New York State Board of Regents have seized control of the Thomas Paine Museum in New Rochelle and given temporary custody of the museum’s holdings to the New York Historical Society, Talk of the Sound has learned. Calls to the Attorney General’s office seeking comment were not returned. The museum itself is locked up, the electricity appears to have been shut off and there is a “final notice” taped to the door by the water company. Through the window, empty boxes are strewn across the floor, beneath a bust of Thomas Paine (see below for photos).
Historian Kenneth Burchell, former board member of the Thomas Paine Museum and author of the forthcoming 6 volume set, Thomas Paine and America, 1776–1809 recently spoke with Talk of the Sound about the declining fortunes of the Paine Musuem and ongoing efforts to protect the remaining assets of the now defunct TPNHA.
Burchell spoke with Talk of the Sound about his conversation with the Attorney General’s office in Manhattan. According to Burchell, the New York State Attorney General’s office is contemplating criminal and civil charges in the matter. Key points from that conversation are published on Burchell’s blog:
1). [Former TPNHA President] Brian McCartin is removed from the museum property and he is no longer associated in any capacity with the museum or the association.
2). The TPNHA administration was judged not competent to administer the museum’s holdings and no longer administers the Thomas Paine Museum or its contents.
3). The museum and its contents are presently subject to the authority of the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York and the Regents of the University of the State of New York. The New York Historical Society has been been given temporary custody of the holdings.
4). The holdings of the museum are the subject of a 510/511 petition (see attachment) which, in my limited understanding, means they are to be disbursed to an established and professionally competent museum and no longer held in the Paine Museum.
5). The disposition of the museum property itself (ie. the building and real estate) is undecided at this time, the administration and disposition of that property to be largely decided by the Regents or their designees.
6). The fate of the TPNHA is unclear at this time, since its historic charter of fiduciary trust of the museum no longer exists and the exact nature and composition of the association is itself in question.
7). The next stage of investigation could involve potential criminal or civil liability.
Most of the TPNHA Board resigned in 2001-2001 to protest the conduct of the other board members including McCartin who was originally hired as a janitor, later placed on the board and installed as President. McCartin was allowed to live with his family rent-free in an apartment above the Museum for years. In addition to running the museum, McCartin worked as a bartender and bouncer at a local bar.
A group of former board members filed a formal complaint with then-New York State Attorney General Elliott Spitzer in 2005 when it was learned that the TPNHA, under McCartin’s leadership, were selling off priceless artifacts and documents from the museum including a First Edition of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”.
In 2005, The New York Times reported:
The attorney general’s inquiry is rooted in the association’s June sale of several Paine writings, for $289,000, to William Reese, a widely respected private book dealer in New Haven. The most valuable item, which commanded $125,000, was a rare first-edition, first-issue copy of ”Common Sense,” inscribed by Henry Wisner, a New York delegate to the Continental Congress. Other items in the sale included seven further copies of ”Common Sense,” three volumes of essays in Paine’s wartime series ”The Crisis,” a poem, a legislative document signed by Paine and two letters.
The Thomas Paine National Historical Association (TPNHA) has been the administrative body of the museum from its founding in 1925. Inventor Thomas Alva Edison served as an officer of the museum at its inception and was on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony (pictured left) for the museum which was built to “house priceless documents and artifact from Paine’s life”, according to the TPNHA web site which is still online.
Burchell is a respected historian who has recently completed a six-volume set of Paine’s works. According to the publisher’s web site, Burchell’s work, “a six-volume facsimile edition, brings together rare texts from books, periodicals and newspaper contributions to unearth the contemporary American response to Thomas Paine. Responses to Common Sense, Rights of Man, Age of Reason and Letter to George Washington are included.