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 lat 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 considered fireproof, inexplicably caught fire in the middle of the night, in a blaze so quick spreading and intensely hot it has to be judged by modern sensibilities the result of incendiarism---although no direct mention of this possibility was made in the public newspapers of the time. Besides "about 600,000 volumes it contained 400,000 pamphlets, and 300,000 historical manuscripts," which were of an "irreplaceable nature," the whole collection, not half, was nearly totally destroyed, also lost were the library of the Assembly, with much of the essential record of State legislation, along with the case records of the Claims Court. Among other losses, "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."
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 public opinion indicates to me Paltsits was either a co-conspirator who was tasked with planting seeds of legitimacy---if not actual justification---in the press coverage of a what seems like 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 the lack of fire safety, prevention, and response. This loss occurred just in advance of a planned move of the State Library and archives into new quarters in a building nearing completion 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, even though---or maybe, especially---since there were no repercussions for men like Dr. Finegan and Dr. Draper,
"'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.'"
The Albany Capital fire also came four days after the Triangle Shirt-waist Factory inferno, which took the lives of 146 mostly young, immigrant female workers. As a coincidence, the subsequent loss of a significant portion of the State's cultural heritage and political patrimony did much to drive the story of the deaths of so many factory workers off of newspaper pages and out of the mind's of readers.
A relationship between these two otherwise disparate fires is possible, which means the Capital fire was a scheduled event of synthetic origin, an arson designed for a primary objective---like destroying the records of decades of State legislative and judicial criminality---while its timing indicates it served a dual purpose, one of driving a still-fresh outrage and sympathy, to a large degree, out of the public's consciousness, whose attention span usually onto the next big thing.
This relationship in timing between an uncontrolled and controlled event can be seen most clearly in the one between the exposure of abuse at Abu Gharib prison in Iraq, which started with a 60 Minutes II news report on April 28, followed with an article by Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker magazine, posted online on April 30 and published in the issue dated May 10, which circulated the week earlier, generating enormous international attention, and that of the supposed beheading of Nicholas Berg, which took place on May 7, 2004, and which then dominated international news. The same powers who were in control of the secret prison abuse and damaged by its exposure, were well served by the timing of a so-called "enemies."
There are a great many eerie parallels between the fire at the State Capital in Albany on March 29, 1911 and a fire 289 days later at the Equitable Life Assurance Building in lower Manhattan. Both were spectacular events in the media, if not on the ground. Both buildings were of the same massive, mid-19th-century masonry construction, and widely considered indestructible by fire, yet both experienced partial building collapses after quick, raging fires.
There was no fire insurance carried on either structures, nor were their contents contents insured against loss by fire.
The burning up of libraries was a central theme in each case, although the loss of Equitable's notable law library was insignificant by comparison. The goal of both probably intended for legal and business documents to be destroyed. 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.
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,
The New York Red Book; An Illustrated Legislative Manual, page 62,
March 29, 1911, "Sparks" from the New York state capitol fire, Albany, N.Y., March 29, 1911. Over 50 souvenir views,
March 29, 1911 (Extra Edition) New York Times, "State Capital Afire After Caucus Quits,"
March 30, 1911, New York Times, "$5,000,000 Loss in Capitol Fire",
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,