CLOSE
Original image

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

Original image

The National Archives and Record Administration preserves billions of government and historical documents in facilities throughout the country, including 12 presidential libraries.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

berger.jpgBerger, who served as National Security Advisor to President Bill Clinton, removed five copies of classified documents from the National Archives in 2003. The documents, stolen before Berger was scheduled to testify before the 9/11 Commission, were related to the Clinton administration's response to a terror plot during the 2000 millennium celebration. When first confronted by investigators, who were tipped off by National Archives staff members, Berger denied taking the documents. Following a lengthy investigation by the Justice Department, he admitted to smuggling the copies by tucking them into his socks. Berger was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and fined $50,000. He also lost his law license and was stripped of his security clearance for three years. While the incident tarnished Berger's legacy, it didn't ruin his political career. He recently served as a foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign.

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

archive-theft.jpgUnpaid internships, while generally unglamorous, sometimes lead to bigger and better things. McTague's internship with the National Archives ended with a trip to prison. The 40-year-old McTague, who has master's degrees in history and library science, pleaded guilty to stealing 164 Civil War-era documents in 2006. The documents, which included an official announcement of Abraham Lincoln's death, were worth an estimated $30,000. As part of his internship, McTague was responsible for arranging and organizing documents in preparation for the National Archives' celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. He used a legal pad and backpack to sneak documents out of the archives and put most of them up for sale on eBay. A Civil War book publisher and would-be bidder tipped off the authorities when he became suspicious of some of the items on the auction site. McTague, whose lawyer said he had stolen the documents after becoming mired in debt, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined $3,000.

5. Evelyn Lincoln

lincoln.jpgDuring her 11 years as personal secretary to John F. Kennedy, Lincoln amassed an enormous collection of Kennedy-related documents and artifacts. After Kennedy's assassination, Lincoln gave away or sold many of the items to Robert L. White, a cleaning-supply salesman who forged an unlikely friendship with Lincoln after writing a letter to her requesting the president's autograph. When Lincoln died in 1995, she left the majority of her remaining collection to White, who sold some of it at auction. This angered the Kennedy family and piqued the interest of archivists. The Kennedy estate had bequeathed all historically important presidential artifacts to the National Archives in 1965, and it was now clear that Lincoln had illegally kept many such items for herself. Following White's death in 2003, the National Archives and White's wife reached a settlement that returned all historically important items to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. The items included a suede glove worn by Kennedy during his inaugural speech and a map of Cuba annotated by the president during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

6. Matt Whitmer

archives-kiss.jpg

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.

Original image
Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
Original image
Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
How to Carve a Pumpkin—And Not Injure Yourself in the Process
Original image
iStock

Wielding a sharp knife with slippery hands around open flames and nearby children doesn't sound like the best idea—but that's exactly what millions of Halloween celebrations entail. While pumpkin carving is a fun tradition, it can also bring the risk of serious hand injuries. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH), some wounds sustained from pumpkin misadventure can result in surgery and months of rehabilitation.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to minimize trauma. Both ASSH and CTV News have compiled safety tips for pumpkin carvers intended to reduce the chances of a trip to the emergency room.

First, it's recommended that carvers tackle their design with knives made specifically for carving. Kitchen knives are sharp and provide a poor grip when trying to puncture tough pumpkin skin: Pumpkin carving knives have slip-resistant handles and aren't quite as sharp, while kitchen knives can get wedged in, requiring force to pull them out.

Carvers should also keep the pumpkin intact while carving, cleaning out the insides later. Why? Once a pumpkin has been gutted, you’re likely to stick your free hand inside to brace it, opening yourself up to an inadvertent stab from your knife hand. When you do open it up, it's better to cut from the bottom: That way, the pumpkin can be lowered over a light source rather than risk a burn dropping one in from the top.

Most importantly, parents would be wise to never let their kids assist in carving without supervision, and should always work in a brightly-lit area. Adults should handle the knife, while children can draw patterns and scoop out innards. According to Consumer Reports, kids ages 10 to 14 tend to suffer the most Halloween-related accidents, so keeping carving duties to ages 14 and above is a safe bet.

If all else fails and your carving has gone awry, have a first aid kit handy and apply pressure to any wound to staunch bleeding. With some common sense, however, it's unlikely your Halloween celebration will turn into a blood sacrifice.

[h/t CTV News]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios