Strapped Harrisburg hopes to cash in its Wild West collection

Wed Nov 2, 2011 4:03pm EDT
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By Mark Shade

HARRISBURG, Pa (Reuters) - If Pennsylvania's fiscally battered capital city wants to stage a Wild West-like battle with the creditors demanding every penny of the millions they are owed, it has enough muskets, stage coaches, sheriff's badges and ammunition to get the job done.

Whether any of it would work is questionable.

Desperate to rid itself of more than 8,000 artifacts and to climb out of a $300 million debt crisis, Harrisburg has allowed appraisers and auction houses into a storage space where the bits of Americana have been gathering dust for years.

Nearly all of the artifacts were collected by former Mayor Stephen Reed, who dreamed of building a Wild West museum in Harrisburg that never materialized. The seven-term mayor left office last year.

Reed began buying the artifacts with tax dollars more than five years ago. Two city auctions of some of the artifacts in 2007 and 2008 have netted $1.66 million.

The remaining artifacts are kept in a nondescript brick structure that sits not far from the incinerator whose expensive revamp helped put the city in dire financial straits.

Inside, "Building D," as it is called, can best be described as a curator's nightmare.

An Indian canoe sits uncovered, with other artifacts piled inside. Cactus skeletons, some 10 feet tall, lean against heaps of other artifacts. Stage coaches are stuffed with odds and ends.   Continued...

<p>An overhead view shows part of the old west artifact storage area at the Harrisburg Incinerator in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, March 10, 2010. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer</p>