Securing Historical Artifacts — A Set up for Failure

A break-in occurred at the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA last week and 3 antique firearms with significant historical and monetary value were taken. This unfortunate event points up a universal quandary in protecting historic artifacts, in particular. It also points up the failure on the part of management to grasp the threat and to take proper measures to protect assets.

Stolen from the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg

Displaying historical artifacts is like putting your head in a lion’s mouth. Great entertainment value, but it always rests on the faith that his appetite has already been sated. Presenting objects to the viewer who can enjoy a contextual intimacy with them is the curator’s intent. How to ensure that the relationship doesn’t become too intimate is the problem. The perimeter security system is off during the daytime so of no use when the viewer feels free to gift himself during visiting hours. And guards are only human, no matter how professional and observant.

In the case of the Civil War Museum, the break in was at night, so the perimeter system was, in fact, the proper first line of defense, then cameras, of which there were supposedly many. But the perimeter security didn’t work and the cameras produced a grainy image that is unlikely to offer anything useful. More surprising was the museum’s response — that no one told them their security was inadequate. Really? In every way this could not have been a better invitation to steal. If we continue to make it easy for thieves, we should not be shocked when a theft occurs. There are solutions. We just need to be more committed to implementing them.

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