BY JOHN SHIFFMAN OF THE INQUIRER A 40-year-old summer intern smuggled 165 Civil War-era documents from National Archives offices in Philadelphia and sold them on eBay, officials said yesterday. The intern, Denning McTague, used a backpack to sneak letters, telegrams and military orders — including one announcing the death of President Lincoln — from the archives’ Market Street office.
McTague, a Philadelphia resident who has a master’s degree in history and operates a rare-manuscripts business, has helped FBI agents and archives officials retrieve 161 of the 165 documents, said Sitarchuk and prosecutors.
As an intern last summer, McTague had been assigned to help with preparations for the forthcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil War. According to a government filing yesterday, McTague smuggled the documents from the archives from mid-June to mid-August.
The archives learned that the documents had been removed after a respected dealer saw them on e-Bay and tipped authorities, officials said. The stolen orders, telegrams and letters ranged in value from several hundred dollars to $5,000, Fields said.
“These are pieces of American history to be preserved, not sold to the highest bidder,” U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan said. McTague is expected to surrender in federal court soon. He probably faces about a year in prison, according to the advisory federal sentencing guidelines. Andrew Coldren, curator of the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia, yesterday called the documents involved “national treasures.”
“They are precious resources,” he said. “It is a disturbing violation of the trust that an institution has placed in someone. But it is more significant than that. There’s a historical trust. You’ve been given something of importance, of a sacred nature. You’re entrusted to take care of it and hand it off to the next generation… . It’s hard to comprehend someone who works in this business who should be reverent of these objects but clearly is not.”