Almost a year ago, I speculated in this space that certain professions may push people to hoard—archivists, antiquarians, and academics are among the first that come to mind…
Last October, Leslie Waffen retired from the National Archives, where he worked for more than 40 years, most recently as head of the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Unit. His retirement followed the discovery of boxes of government property in the basement of his home. At that time, it appeared that after long service to the country, Waffen had succumbed to the archivist’s ailment: hoarding disorder.
Turns out Waffen is not a hoarder at all, but a thief, selling off our nation’s history on eBay for a couple bucks: On Monday morning he pleaded guilty to embezzlement of government property. Ruben Castaneda reports for the Washington Post’s “The Crime Scene” blog:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Arun G. Rao said in court that one item sold by Waffen was an original master copy of a voice recording of Babe Ruth on a December 1937 hunting trip. The recording sold for $34.74, Rao said.
“This case is especially egregious because the defendant was a high-ranking government employee who violated his obligation to protect historical records that belong to the National Archives and Records Administration,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement. “These items were entrusted to the National Archives to be used by all citizens, not to be auctioned for personal profit to the highest bidder.”
It’s truly appalling. How could someone who spent a lifetime working to perserve such materials do such a thing? In addition to being an affront to the nation, it seems like a self-negating gesture almost on par with suicide to so vitiate forty years of work. And who would kill himself for $34.74, or whatever the highest bid on eBay might be?
- Washington Post blog: “Ex-Archives Official Admits to Theft”