Bankrupt Cities

Broke City of Harrisburg Says Goodbye to Wild Bill Hickok's Knife, Doc Holliday's Dental Chair


The insolvent city of Harrisburg, which attempted to declare bankruptcy in 2011, closed a chapter in the shameful tenure of former Mayor Stephen R. Reed last week by auctioning off 8,000 Wild West artifacts for an estimated $3.85 million. After paying commission fees, the city will walk away with $2.7 million. According to Penn Live, once you add in earlier sales, the Harrisburg's take comes to $4.4 million, or a little more than half of the $8.3 million the city spent acquiring the items.

Theodore Roosevelt Cased Drilling Gun Set ||| Guernsey's Auction House
Guernsey's Auction House

What, might you ask, was Pennsylvania's capital city (pop. 50,000) doing in possession of a document signed by Wyatt and Mattie Earp (which fetched $55,000), a coat belonging to Annie Oakley ($6,000), Wild Bill Hickok's knife in a box ($14,000), and Doc Holliday's dental chair ($40,000)?

During a disastrous 28 years in office that earned him the title "mayor for life," Reed mortgaged the city's future to finance a wide array of misconceived schemes and projects. While crime soared, the middle class fled, and schools deteriorated, Reed focused his attention on buying a hotel, building a baseball stadium, buying a baseball team, erecting many failed commercial developments, and throwing good money after bad in an attempt to repair a garbage incinerator that was never necessary in the first place. Sound familiar?

A history enthusiast, Reed treated himself to taxpayer-funded junkets in which he traveled the country buying Old West artifacts of questionable authenticity. He paid for these goodies out of a slush fund carved into the budget of the Harrisburg Authority, an agency charged primarily with maintaining the city's water supply.

Reed's vision was to create a Wild West museum—one of five cultural institutions that would help turn Harrisburg into an international tourist destination. Reed's longtime press secretary, Randy King, described his bosses' ludicrous plan when I interviewed him in 2012: "Much as Washington, D.C. and its many museums draws millions of people to the city each year, or New York City, that's what Stephen Reed's vision for Harrisburg was."

Last year, I covered Harrisburg's woes for Reason TV, "Is Harrisburg's Nightmare America's Future?"

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    1. Never mind.

      1. “What, might you ask, was Pennsylvania’s capital city”?
        Hehehe. I caught crap when I asked…

    2. How can you not know state capitals?

      1. Hey, there’s more than one Harrisburg in the damn country.

  2. “Write him up, Chumley.”

  3. He paid for these goodies out of a slush fund carved into the budget of the Harrisburg Authority, an agency charged primarily with maintaining the city’s water supply

    It sounds like something out of a bill created by congress.

    1. Or the University of Wisconsin system.

  4. Being a Reed, I sincerely apologize for his behavior. I am just thankful he is on a totally different branch of the tree.

    1. Not good enough. Guilty!

      /Corruption of the Blood

      1. +1 drop rule

  5. The Holiday dental chair was totally worth it.

  6. 8.x million is hardly enough to bankrupt a city. I mean, municipal debt doesn’t matter, right?


    1. Global GDP is $65 trillion, what difference does $8 million make?


      1. But we just owe it to ourselves so…

        What? Even internal financing has real effects?

      2. Hell, what’s the GDP of the Milky Way? Much be even bigger!

  7. My vision of Wild Bill is forever locked into the way Thomas Berger portrayed him in Little Big Man and its sequels.

    1. Little Big Man had sequels?

      Y’all are makin’ me feel un-edumuhcated of late.

      1. The Return of Little Big Man. Just the one–I mistyped. I liked it, though it’s quite different from the original.

      2. That’s a sequel to the novel, incidentally, not the film.

        I liked the original book much more than the movie, and I liked the movie plenty. Especially Chief Dan George, who has a multiplier effect on most movies he’s in.

        1. I didn’t know there was a “Return” – interesting.

          Yes, Wild Bill, and Custer – that’s been my permanent image of Custer, seared into my brain.

          Also, hat was the movie I fell in love with Faye Dunaway (come on, I was 8 when it came out). She made…quite an impression on me.

          Just got to see it again last winter for the first time in forever. It holds up exceptionally well.

          “Today…is a good day to die…”

    2. Deadwood for me.

  8. My Facebook feed is blowing up with “It’s a prince” crap. Criminey.

    1. I dunno, what are the odds the kid ever gets to the throne? Given the trajectory of the UK, I’m rather doubtful the crown survives Elizabeth’s death, or, at the most, Charles’.

      1. If the Brits really wanted me to pay attention to their pissant little monarchy, they’d set up a praetorian guard and a little fratricide.

        1. The old monarchy was entertaining. I say bring back the Tudors or the Stuarts.

          1. Elizabeth’s uncle (grand-uncle) was a fun-loving guy.

            1. I say they give Hugh Laurie the throne. In his Prince George persona, of course.

              1. I’d like to see a real life War of Five Kings:

                House Hugh Laurie, House Ian McShane, House Patrick Stewart, House Ian McKellan, and House Anthony Hopkins fight for the throne.

                1. Well, if we’re including Laurie, where’s Atkinson?

                  1. Atkinson was forced to take the Black after Johnny English Reborn.

                  2. Yeah. Blackadder was the one who actually ruled as George IV.

              2. And give the Standing at the Back Dressed Stupidly and Looking Stupid Party a parliamentary majority.

          2. No. Bring back the Plantagenets. The Tudors were trash usurpers and the Stuarts were idiotic Scottsman unfit to rule a dog pound. But the Plantagenets, they were real royalty.

        2. Sadly, I think Americans care more about the British royalty than the British. It makes me sick to see Americans fawning over hereditary monarchs like that, even if they are largely symbolic.

      2. My bet is they’ll continue to be crowned, even living in a 1600 sq ft “palace” on Foula.

      3. Don’t be such a pessimist. The kings of Italy made it all the way through Fascism, German occupation, and Allied occupation.

    2. Going to head over to Orange County’s Wee Britain to party tonight!

      1. Heh, maybe I should hit the Fox and Hounds in Studio City to celebrate… and then Maeve’s Irish afterwards to curse the sniveling little shit.

      2. Hehehehe. I’ve been watching Arrested Development on Netflix. Wee Britain. Funny stuff.

    3. We’re still enjoying the “George Zimmerman helps accident victims”. So hard to resist the comment “mighty white of him”.

      1. My thought was now they’ll be accusing him of being a “wannabe fireman.”

        1. Actually people are calling him a wannabe hero because a rule is you should never ever move someone from a vehicle after an accident in case of spinal injuries.

          My dad is a fireman so I know that, but at the same time no one was injured and accident was minor, so it’s really just sour grapes from terrible people.

          1. The vehicle was overturned. If someone is hanging from their seatbelts, it can cause problems, including positional asphyxia.

            1. At least he didn’t rip the door open like Herschel Walker, walk off to prevent him interfering with the rescue, and refuse to comment because he was in the middle of exams.

          2. If they were major injuries, he is a bum for moving them. If they were minor injuries, he was inserting himself where he wasn’t needed. You know the drill.

            1. The 9-11 operator probably told him to stay away from the car.

      2. I haven’t seen anything about the race of the people he rescued. That gives me hope he rescued a black family. Please God let them be black so I can hear progs have to explain how he did it to cover up for his real racism or some such.

      3. This is really too funny to be true.

  9. Reed was considered a real rube in the antiquest industry. Seller took him for as much as they could. After all, he was spending someone else’s money on someone else, which is #4 on Milton Friedman’s “ways to spend money” list.

    Reed was mayor for 28 years, and basically owned the city council as well. He got lazy in his last term and was primaried by the current mayor, a church lady who turned out to be so inept that her own black constituency dumped her for a white male this primary.

  10. In a just world (not this one) the Mayor would be personally on the hook for the other 4+ million. They should at least take his house. No doubt he has plenty of assets despite most likely never working an actual job in his life.

    1. I guess. About the only people I feel a little bit sorry for are the Harrisburg citizens who didn’t reelect this bozo.

  11. Auctioned all their wild west shit?? Sorry, Harrisburg, you just lost your #1 spot on my list of towns to terrorize a la Brad Wesley in Road House.

    1. Or Rambo in First Blood.

  12. well if they really have a Bureau of Shade Tree like the sign says, there’s your problem right there.

    1. At first I was going to say “no, that must be a nearby borough, which is what Pennsylvania calls towns”, but I looked, and it’s not. Wow.

  13. He offered Harrisburg VISION.

    1. He offered Harrisburg ordure.

    2. He’s got vision, but the rest of the world is wearing bifocals.


    I really want this vehicle and a cabin in the mountains somewhere near a trout stream to go with it. That is all.

    1. Well, if you had the foresight to get elected mayor of Harrisburg you could have nice things. But, alas, you went and got a job.


  15. I grew up in the 717 and never knew any of those things could be found in Harrisburg. Outside of class field trips, I never took the 45 minutes to drive into the city. The fact that anyone thought Harrisburg, PA could become an international tourist destination is so stupid is sad.

    1. It is not like there isn’t really big tourist attractions within two hours of Harrisburg or anything. You know like Hershey, Gettysburg, Washington DC and Philadelphia.

      1. There’s also a big, expensive and mostly unvisted National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg that cost the city plenty.

      2. I seem to remember the science center in Strawberry Square being decent. And the capitol building itself is very nice. It could be a fine tourist destination for Pennsylvanians, and maybe some people from neighboring states. But no one is going to fly across an ocean to visit Harrisburg. You’re more likely to get people to visit Foam Henge.

        1. It is a day trip for people with nothing else to do.

    2. I grew up in the 717

      Represent! To be fair, I have fond memories of the State Museum as a kid.

      The fact that anyone thought Harrisburg, PA could become an international tourist destination is so stupid is sad.

      How do you explain Harrisburg International Airport, then? Huh? HUH? I thought so.

      1. Living in Canada right now, I can tell you that the only ones who actually think of it as another country are the Canadians themselves, and they aren’t going to vacation in Harrisburg either.

  16. It’s the fault of government small enough to drown in a bathtub (or smother with Annie Oakley’s coat). Somehow.

  17. Why would you open a wild west museum in Pennsylvania?

    1. Exactly. I could see a Kentucky Rifle museum – since “Kentucky” rifles mostly came from Pennsylvania and were carried by people going west to Kentucky. But I doubt that many of the famous figures of the wild west had ever been to Pennsylvania.

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