State Historian Accuses Commissioner of Education of Lobbying.
ALBANY, June 23. -- Charges of "misrepresentation, pernicious lobbying, and coercion," are made against State Commissioner of Education Andrew S. Draper by State Historian Victor Hugo Paltsits, in a circular letter which he has sent to Presidents of historical societies, educators, and other persons interested in historical study and research. The accusations grow out of the efforts of the Commissioner to defeat legislation proposed by Mr. Paltsits at the last two sessions to have the historian's department made a bureau in the Department of Education.Less than a year after this contretemps, on March 29, 1911, the New York State House in Albany, built of massive stone construction and widely considered fireproof, inexplicably caught fire late at night, in a blaze so quick spreading and intensely hot it has to be judged by modern sensibilities to be the result of incendiarism---although no direct mention of this possibility was ever made in the public newspapers of the time. In addition to "about 600,000 volumes it contained 400,000 pamphlets, and 300,000 historical manuscripts," many of which were of an "irreplaceable nature," and the entire undivided collection was nearly totally destroyed. Also lost were the library of the Assembly, comprising much of the essential record of State legislation, as well as the entire case record of the Claims Court, the forum for civil litigants seeking damages against the State of New York. Other losses, including "10,000 of the State Museum's most prized archaeological and ethnographic objects stored in tall glass cases, including its world-famous Iroquois collection were consumed in a flaming corsage," as the Albany Times-Union wrote this year in coverage of the 100-year anniversary of the event.
The bill gave the State Historian access to all county records for the purpose of examining them and ascertaining whether they contained anything of historical value. It also gave him the right to copy and photograph such originals and prohibited their destruction by county officials or custodians of records without first consulting and receiving his permission.
The legislation which Mr. Paltsits was endeavoring to have passed had the indorsement of historical societies throughout the State, and of nearly every every prominent educator, as well as many writers on historical subjects. These men, as is clear from letters on file in the office of the State Historian, are also opposed, almost without exception, to subordinating the department to that of the Commissioner of Education.
Mr. Paltsits declined to-day to give out his letter for publication on the ground that it was personal correspondence, and he even refused to confirm the accuracy of a copy which reached THE TIMES correspondent through other channels.
Dr. Draper is out of town. Dr. Thomas E. Finegan, Third Assistant Commissioner of Education, said to-day:
"Mr. Paltsits is laboring under some very strange delusions with reference to the entire matter. There was no pernicious lobbying, nor any effort except what was made in the open on behalf of this department to defeat that bill. We believed---and I think with some justification---that the powers the bill would have given the State Historian over public records were too sweeping, especially as they would have covered certain manuscripts of tremendous value in the State Library, which under the existing law is in the custody of the Regents and this department.
"We did not feel that we could afford to divide the responsibility with the State Historian. As a way out it was suggested to Mr. Paltsits that he become an official in this department and have the benefits of everything in the State Library. He declined to do so."
Although, in at least one image, apparently released through the Associated Press for the first time in 2011, the wooden cases appear to have survived the fire relatively unscathed.
In the major piece of reporting published in The New York Times the day following the fire, can be found a quote from Paltsits that literally jumps out:
"Victor Hugo Paltsits, State Historian, said to-night that he had long feared the loss of the priceless historical records in the State Library, which he has repeatedly tried to have transferred to his own department.Such expressed public opinion would indicate to me Paltsits was either a plot co-conspirator who was tasked with planting seeds of legitimacy---if not actual justification---in the press coverage of a what would seem otherwise to be an incredible event; or else he was providing a serious indictment of the public officials whose stewardship of the collection held them ultimately responsible for any lack of fire safety, prevention, or effective response. This loss occurred of the State Library occurred just in advance of its planned move into new quarters in a nearly completed building just across the street from the Capital in Albany, where for the first time much of the collection stood the chance of being accessible for historical review. Given this, and much else, I'd say Paltsits represents a true whistle blower, although in the hallmark of insiders to a powerful conspiracy, there were no repercussions for men like Dr. Finegan and Dr. Draper afterward.
"'They were stored,' he said, 'in an improvised room, the shelving and furniture of which were all of wood. The whole thing was tinder and could not have withstood fire from within or without. The disaster had been expected by those of us who were familiar with the ground.'"
April 20, 1911,Page 1, New York Times, DIX TO ASK PUBLIC TO REBUILD CAPITOL, About $1 a Head All Round, He Figures, Would Help Out This Empire State.
Lieut. de Kay's characterization of the fire as "being altogether unforeseen or unforeseeable," directly contradicts what Governor Dix had said previously that evening, in praising Dr. Draper's "foresight" for preserving two of the most precious documents under his care. It also sounds awfully similar to "nobody in this administration, and I don't think in the previous administration, could have imagined them flying airplanes into buildings."
"Party lines are removed in the great problems of citizenship,. and now, when the State has suffered such a heavy and unexpected loss through the recent fire in its Capital, it is proper that an appeal should be made to all its citizens. In that fire many of the State's most valuable documents were destroyed. It was only through the foresight of Dr. Draper that two of the most valued documents---Washington's Farewell Address and Lincoln's Proclamation---were not lost in the fire. Two years ago Dr. Draper expressed his fear that the documents might be lost through just such a conflagration, and he put them away in a safe in his office. It was thought for a time that the sword given by Frederick the Great has also been saved, but unfortunately it was in the fire. It was found in the burnt building three days later damaged, but not so badly but that it can be, and I hope will soon be, repaired.
"As a result of the fire, the State now finds itself obliged to rebuild the State Library, which was worth over $2,000,000, and repairs to the Capital will also cost about $2,000,000. There is, besides, the necessity of erecting a State educational building. All these are important improvements to the State's property for the use of future generations. They will require money---about $1 from each citizen of the State. "The need of providing a building where the important papers and documents shall hereafter be kept safe from fire and water must be self-evident to all citizens, and an appeal will be made to all its loyal citizens to respond to the need. I know that they and you will rise to the occasion and that with your help our great problem can be solved."
The Governor's aid, Lieut. Commander de Kay, was asked afterward for more details as to the nature of the proposed collection, but he said that as far as he knew the matter had not yet taken very definite shape. He thought it had been suggested because the loss due to the fire, being altogether unforeseen or unforeseeable, had fallen so much more heavily now when an earnest effort is being made to curtail expenditures, He could add nothing to what the Governor had said.
There are a great many eerie parallels between the fire at the State Capital in Albany on March 29, 1911 and the fire 289 days later at the Equitable Life Assurance Building in lower Manhattan. Both were spectacular events in the media, if not equally so on the ground. Both buildings were of the same massive, mid-19th-century, masonry and iron construction, and were standards of that era's indestructibility by fire, yet both experienced quick, raging fires leading to partial building collapses.
Neither structure was insured against damage by fire, nor were the valuable contents in each insured against loss.
The burning up of libraries was a central event in both fires, although the loss of Equitable's touted law library was insignificant in comparison. But a primary motive for both arsons was the destruction, or at least the claim of destruction, for many important legal and business documents. The survival of bronze statues figured in media coverage of both---one of Henry Hyde, the founder of the Equitable Society, the other George Washington, the founder of the United States of America.
"Sparks" from the New York state capitol fire, Albany, N.Y., March 29, 1911. Over 50 souvenir views
Minutes of The Commissioners For Detecting Conspiracies In The State of New York: Albany County Sessions 1778-1781, Volume III. Analytical Index. 1909-1910, Edited by Victor Hugo Paltsits,
An Illustrated Legislative Manual: The NEW YORK RED BOOK, page 62
March 30, 1911, New York Times,"$5,000,000 Loss in Capitol Fire",
March 29, 1911 (Extra Edition) New York Times, "State Capital Afire After Caucus Quits,"
March 28, 2011, Associated Press, NY marks 100th anniversary of 1911 Capitol fire
March 28, 2011, Albany Times-Union,1911 Capitol fire remains seared into city's history,