Art Theft and the FBI

The recent theft of five paintings from a Dutch art museum has me intrigued. One of the first things that came to my mind was the many movies that have dealt with art theft. To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly was a classic, and one of my favorites. Then there are the Pink Panther movies, as well as numerous others. I will never cease to be amazed at the value of some art.

These seven paintings included a Picasso, two Monets, and a Gauguin are estimated to have been worth more than 65 million dollars. There has been a lot of discussion about the lack of adequate security at not only this museum but perhaps at most museums. I don’t know if that is true or not. I suspect if there were 65 million dollars in gold sitting on a table, that there would be a lot of security in place. An unfortunate statistic that I read was that less than 20 percent of stolen art is recovered. As I reviewed the internet I read about an organization within the FBI that is tasked with recovering stolen art, the Art Crime Team.   

The Art Crime Team was established in 2004, comprised of 14 special agents dedicated to recovery of art theft. They have recovered more than 2,600 items of art including paintings, artifacts, and ancient maps. I have no idea what is involved in their work but I am intrigued. I have no idea what training or education is required but it sounds interesting and rewarding. I love documentaries, and if there is ever an hour episode covering this department within the FBI, I would be interested in watching it.

Few things are cherished and valued within cultures as much as their art. Art is indeed true treasure. I wanted to highlight this point when I created Treasure Trove, so I included the following situation card with the game.

To Go Where Ones Have Gone Before

We have all heard William Shatner in Star Trek say, “To boldly go where no one has gone before.”  It’s catchy and it makes you want to join the exploration.  But you know what?  You don’t have to go into the future to explore.  It is all around us.  If we occasionally take time to explore our past, I think it can make us better people.   

When I drive by a dilapidated farmhouse out in the country or an abandoned factory in a city, I have the urge to explore them.  Most of the time I do not stop; no trespassing signs, safety concerns, and besides, I’m usually driving purposely towards my destination.  I’m a reflective person.  I like spending a few moments walking in the presence of where others went before.  The few times I have stopped have always been rewarding.

                I believe the word castle creates more imaginative thoughts in most people’s minds than almost any other word I can think of.  The word castle just immediately transports you to a different time.  A land far away: a time of adventure.  Just think how many movies show us the mysterious castles situated high on a hilltop.  Even the sounds of castles conjure up thoughts.  The huge gates being opened with the horses galloping over the bridge spanning the moat.  The blacksmith banging on steel.  The pigeons seeking shelter in the tall towers.  Not to mention all the battle scenes with arrows flying, battering rams, swords, arrows, and hot oil. 

                Farmhouses can do the same for me.  I guess this goes back to my very early years as a child visiting my grandparent’s farm.  They had an 800 acre spread in the central Texas hill country that is hilly, covered with an abundance of oak trees and lots of wildlife, notably deer.  The spring brings the wildflowers and beautiful bluebonnets.  I remember Grandpa milking the cow as he would sometimes squirt the milk at me, and then giggle.  Most mornings Grandma, who we called Mama Sue, would go into the chicken coup, shoo away the hens, and collect the eggs. 

She cooked on an old big black stove.  Everything seemed greasy to me and Grandpa would sip his hot black coffee out of the saucer.  The milk was thick, warm, and had some sort of scum on the top that I did not like.  Being from the city, I was used to cold milk from a bottle, not fresh milk poured from the can that Grandpa had just collected.  She would sometimes get a coat hanger, grab a chicken and cut off his head.  Fried chicken is what we ate in those days.

I really liked riding on the tractor with Grandpa, or in the back of his pickup when he made the rounds to feed the cattle.  I enjoyed messing around in the barn playing hide and seek among the stacked hay bales with my brothers and cousins.  I recall watching a sow with her piglets, a big Billy goat roaming around the barnyard, petting a gentle milk cow, and watching the peacocks fluff up their feathers.  I learned to shoot guns at an early age as we occasionally we would go to the dump with 22 rifles.

My grandparents lived on that farm all of their adult lives before they eventually retired to live in town.  They raised their five kids there, of whom my mom was the middle child.  That was a way of life I will never know.  I think I might have liked it, but of course I will never know the amount of work involved. 

I remember as a second grader working on a craft project where we had to cut out material and paste on an 8 by 12 piece of cardboard to tell what we would like to be when we grew up.  I had Mom help me cut out a red shirt from some old cloth, and from the blue cloth some pants.  I told her I wanted to be a farmer like Grandpa.  She had a quiet, almost sad look on her face.  Years later Mom told me just how much work is involved on a farm.

The next day in class some of the girls had all white dresses on their cardboard because they wanted to be nurses.  I understood that, but some of the guys had all blue uniforms because they wanted to be policeman, or all red uniforms for those wanting to be a fireman, and that I did not understand.  I just thought they would all like to be farmers like their grandparents.  I assumed they all had grandparents from the farm like me.  Funny how we get some thought patterns in our thinking without realizing it can be way off. 

The old farmhouse that I visited in the 1950’s had wood burning stoves, creaky wooden floors and smelled old to me, but I liked it.  When my uncle built a new house on the same spot, the old farmhouse was moved to become a barn, next to the old barn.  Over fifty years later I recall peeking into the old farmhouse that was now storing grain.  There was the bedroom where I had slept, and the den where we warmed ourselves by the fire.  Times past, times long ago, where others had gone before.  Where aunts and uncles had been born and raised.  Where horses, cows, donkeys, sheep and goats had roamed about.  A way of life that most Americans in centuries past lived, yet alien too many of us now. 

I think Mama Sue and Grandpa represented millions in that they were hard working, God fearing, decent people that helped to continue nourishing the sound foundation our country was built on.  Their way of still fascinates me in a lot of ways.  I also felt a lot of love from all my grandparents, all born right about 1900. My grandparent’s generation, those that were adults in the early 20th century, were inspirational to me in many ways.  You don’t have to be an archeologist like Indiana Jones visiting exotic far away places in the quest to explore.  You may not find an ancient artifact worth millions like they do in the movies, which as you know, you are not allowed to keep, but your exploration brings a different kind of treasure.   A treasure you can keep in your heart.  “To go where ones have gone before,” renews my dedication to try and pass the same blessings I received from past generations on to my kids and future generations.  By the way, I have an old oil lamp on my bookcase that came from the junkyard of my grandparent’s farm.  It looks old but may only be 50 or 60 years old.  Not much of an antique, much less an artifact, and it may actually be just trash, but it is treasure to me.  It brings back a treasure trove of wonderful memories.         

 

 

Castaway Island

The idea of being stranded on a remote island sounds romantic.  Especially if you were stranded with someone pretty like Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island.  I always enjoyed looking at her when I was a teenager watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island.  Some men liked Ginger, but for me it was Mary Ann.  When I was a little kid I watched the movie Swiss Family Robinson and it really captured my imagination. As a child my family also had Golden Books one of which was Robinson Crusoe.  I must have read the book dozens of times. Fantasizing about living on an island brought many a good thought.

I remember watching an episode on Sixty Minutes about a man on his honeymoon who took his bride to the Maldives, a group of about one thousand tiny islands in the Indian Ocean. It was supposed to be pleasure in the sand and sun. The Danish couple had an argument, and he killed his bride. The Maldives is a land where very little violent crime occurs, and consequently the government was not sure exactly how to punish the man from Holland. For his punishment he was banished to a remote tiny island. Only catch and a good one for the Dutchman, there were were about five girls on the island with him. They cooked for him and he lived with them. When Sixty Minutes interviewed him on the remote island he was quite content. As a matter of fact when Sixty Minutesreturned a few years later, the marooned man was still quite content and expressed no desire to return to civilization. That is probably the only time I have heard where someone was actually happy to be stranded. In reality, being a castaway would be anything but fun.

Crozet Isalnds

 

 

 

 

 

Maldives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My research regarding famous castaways told of some sailors being stranded for decades in the South Pacific.  There were a number of stories involving lost ships in the South Indian Ocean whose survivors spent years on such islands as the remote Crozet Islands.  I choose to place a spot on the game board of Treasure Trove in the Indian Ocean and called it Castaway Island.  There is actually no such island there, only stories told of lost fishermen washed ashore who struggled to survive.  Many ships did find islands that had had castaways, but most perished prior to being rescued.  I now realize thanks to the Internet that there is a tiny island called Castaway Island, part of Fiji, a tourist destination in the South Pacific.

            While playing Treasure Trove, if one lands on Castaway Island, they roll the die and collect in Treasure Notes the amount shown on die.  Nice twist to put some fun in the game.  

Hitler’s Holy Relics

 

Imperial Crown of Holy Roman Jewels

 

I know England has its Crown Jewels. The Vatican has its treasures. Russia has its famous crowns and jewels as do the Iranians with their Persian Jewels. I assume most countries have their own national treasures, but I did not realize the Germans have their own crown jewels, relics of the Holy Roman Empire, dating back to Charlemagne. The relics include a crown, an orb, a scepter, two ceremonial swords, and one other priceless artifact, the Lance of Christ. For hundreds of years they were passed down to successors, eventually being safe-guarded in Nuremberg.  They were housed there for centuries until Napoleon came along who wanted to obtain the Spear of Christ. Supposedly, it has a supernatural power to help bring success to all who possess it. The Germans hid the jewels and the Spear of Christ form Napoleon by removing them from Nuremberg. Decades later the 19thcentury the jewels wound up in Vienna, Austria.

Imperial Sword Of German Jewels

 

Spear of Christ

 

I enjoy history, including military history such as World War II. I am one of those who seem to watch and read just about anything on the 3rd Reich. If there is a God, who I believe exists, and who I believe is good, then the 3rd Reich personifies evil on earth. I enjoy exploring the origins or latent desires within Germanic culture that allowed one such as Hitler to touch a nerve of hope, however false it may have been. That desire of a Germanic Empire, that lust for power here on earth, that lure for glory, and the chance to wear a shiny uniform seemed to speak to millions even though they were a nation with a Christian background. This fascinates me.

One component of the 3rd Reich that has been written about extensively the last twenty years is the affect the occult had on several of the leaders of the regime. The occult is loosely defined as esoteric teachings about secret or hidden knowledge.  In the case of the Nazis: knowledge of the origins of the Aryan race. There is no such thing as an Aryan race, or an Aryan man, but the Nazis were determined to convince the world of its existence. I do not know how much the occult actually influenced Hitler, I suspect he was bit more fascinated with the ancient Germanic tribes, and their ancient religions. Himmler, however, was a true occultist.

As I was searching the internet, I came across a book titled Hitler’s Holy Relics, written by Sidney Kirkpatrick, copyright 2010. I bought a copy, and it was indeed a fascinating read. It was perhaps the most enjoyable book I have read in some time. The book takes place during the closing months of the Second World War. First Lieutenant Walter Horn who is assigned to intelligence interrogates captured German soldiers to find out if any are SS officers, or if he suspects any of the soldiers want to start a 4th Reich. Horn also is interested in finding prisoners that he thinks will help with the rebuilding of Germany.

One of the many soldiers he is tasked with interrogating is older, almost fifty, and obviously one of the many last minute draftees into the German Army. This particular soldier did not seem defiant and conveyed a demeanor that he was one of those German soldiers that just wanted to help with the rebuilding. He regretted the war which he, like many, never wanted. He would like the war to end sooner than later. Additionally, for some strange reason, the prisoner asked Lieutenant Horn if he was interested in arts and antiques. Horn was definitely interested. He had been an art history teacher in civilian life back at Berkley, California. Art was his true love, not intelligence. As fate would have it, he just happened to be the one questioning this particular German prisoner.

The disheveled prisoner reveals he knows where the famous German Crown Jewels are hidden. Most Americans had heard of the British Crown Jewels but not any German Crown Jewels. Horn knew exactly what the prisoner was talking about. Lieutenant Horn had grown up in Germany not far from Nuremberg, coming to America in 1934 to flee Hitler. He had heard about the jewels of the Holy Roman Empire many, many times. The prisoner indulged that his parents were in charge of maintaining the proper temperature and air ventilation for thousands of treasures, housed in a secret bunker underneath his family home in Nuremberg. Hitler had brought the Holy Roman Crown Jewels to Nuremberg from Vienna in 1938. Hitler felt the jewels rightly belonged in Nurnberg. Thousands of other treasures looted by the Nazis during the war were also housed in Nurnberg.

Horn quickly files a report to higher officers. Almost immediately, the lieutenant is reassigned to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives division of the Army, tasked with recovering stolen treasure. Eisenhower and Patton gave him the challenging assignment of getting to Nuremberg as quickly as possible. The Americans had just captured the city, with some fighting still evident. He was to find the Crown Jewels, and if they had been stolen, find out by whom and get them back.

It was a true and compelling story of intrigue, suspense, adventure and hope. It is a story that should have been told decades ago. In the early 1980’s Jackie Onassis Kennedy, who was active with the National Endowment for the Arts, heard about the fascinating tale and began to have people research the story. I think it is better than an Indian Jones adventure or a James Bond movie. Why? Because it is true: and I absolutely love true stories.                 

Memorial Diamonds

 

Memorial Diamond done by LifeGem

 

I am one of those people who often hear about things well after it seems everyone else has already heard it.  If it’s the news, I am always hours, often days behind.  If there is new gadget to buy, I am always years behind.  If there is a hot stock, it has already hit its peak about the time I decide to buy.  I just recently read of something that is not necessarily new, but it was news to me:  memorial diamonds.

In 1999, a company called LifeGem began producing diamonds from the bodies of deceased loved ones or animals. There are now a number of companies that offer the service.  As you know it takes Mother Nature millions of years to produce a diamond, basically carbon under intense pressure and heat.  Synthetic diamonds are created the same way:  intense heat and pressure, but in a drastically shorter period of time.  Technology now allows people to take some hair or ashes(DNA) from the body of a deceased loved one and turn it into a diamond in as little as three to six months.  For some people this is weird, while others feel it is a nice way to remeber a spouse, cherished loved one or pet.  Treasured memoreis turned into treasure.

Memorial Diamond done by DNA2

Prices vary from $1500 to over $25,000 depending on the size and type of diamond ordered.  Many changes are taking place in the funeral industry.  Fifty years ago only about 5% of people were cremated.  That has risen to over 40% today.  Many people are opting out of expensive caskets and would prefer to have a different way to remember their loved one than necessarily a grave stone.  I doubt many people are going to have the ashes rocketed into space as some do.  Some will sprinkle the ashes over a favorite garden area or landscape, or place them in an urn. I think this idea of memorial diamonds will continue to grow in popularity, especially for those who have the money to do so. 

I don’t think I have the money to buy a black diamond to honor Marley, our black cat, however maybe I should check to see what a black pearl would cost.  I doubt if I will do that either.  Time to give Marley a hug and enjoy him while he is still with us.     

 

  

Shangri-La

Kunlun Mountains

 

My whole life I have heard about Shangri-La:  A mysterious, hidden, far away destination, where a utopian lifestyle of no worries exists.  A place of peace and harmony, no cares at all.  A place where people live for a very long time.  There is an old black and white movie with called Lost Horizon, based on the 1933 novel by James Hilton where they are searching for Shangri-La.  The movie is directed by Frank Capra, the director of the Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life.  I do not recall seeing Lost Horizon while I was growing up but I did see the movie about eight years ago.  Even though I have seen it fairly recently, about the only thing I remember from the movie was the discovery of a remote hidden village in the Himalayas.  I did not care much for the movie.

Shangri-La is like El Dorado, or the Fountain of Youth:  One of those elusive destinations that will never be found.  Yet, people ponder is there any evidence to support such a mysterious locale.  The Chinese think so.  Several cities within China claim to be where the legend of Shangri-La started.  The Chinese government does not discourage such speculation because it draws tourism.

The Kunlun Mountains of western China for centuries have been a source of mystery in Chinese folklore and legend.  The Shan Hai Jing are ancient classic writings about mythical mountains.  In Tibet, a portion of the mountain range is known as the “Shang Mountain Pass.”  Hilton visited the mountainous area of eastern Pakistan and western Tibet shortly before he penned his novel.  He also spent time with Buddhists monks intriqued by thier lifestyles.  Buddhism was a largely unknown religion to many Westerners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Today the term Shangri-La is often used in conversation to describe a perfect place, utopia, or paradise such as the Garden of Eden.  It can also be used to describe an obsessive desire to acquire, find or achieve something:  “After many years trying to win, he finally found his Shangri-La when he won the elusive title of National Scrabble Champion at the big tournament in Vegas.”   

I choose to place Shangri-La on the game board of Treasure Trove because it is a cool sounding term and because of the thought of such a remote, exotic, and hidden location.  I think kids love to hear about such places.  The closest I have come to Shangri-La is when I bought some gogi juice from a friend several years ago who sold the stuff.  He said the elixir was made from gogi berries from a remote village in the Himalayas where the people lived very long lives.  It was another of my failed attempts at finding the Fountain of Youth. I no longer buy gogi juice, and I don’t think it prolonged my life.  Even though I doubt I will ever see, must less touch Shagnri-La, at least I can say I tried to give it a taste.