If you have, then you likely can answer my second question in the affirmative;  Have you ever heard of “The Biggest Art Theft in American History?”

That huge (in value) art theft indeed occurred at the E.S. Gardner Museum in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990 when two thieves dressed as Boston policemen made off with 13 paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, Manet, and others.  Their collective value today is somewhere around $500 million!

All that remains of the 13 priceless paintings taken in the infamous 1990 art heist were the frames, such as that of one of two large Rembrandt paintings as shown above Allen Wicken

Today, almost 30 years later, the heist remains unsolved, in spite of serious worldwide detective work, and following countless dead end leads over the course of those 29+ years.  The heist was a shocker for me because the Gardner museum had become one of my favorite places back in 1970-72 when I was stationed at the U.S. Army’s Natick Laboratories in the western suburbs of Boston.

That spectacular art museum also fit the budget of an enlisted soldier….it was free!  OK, there was a donation box near the entrance…whereby two or three dollars into the slot felt more than appropriate give my meager Army pay at the time.

So, why am I discussing this beautiful 120-year old art museum now in 2019 you ask?

It started with a phone call my nice wife  (SIDEBAR:  I have been told not to mention her name again in this column going forward, lest I be subjected to unpleasant and unnamed retributions,…therefore I will safely be referring to her now, and in the future, as simply “my nice wife”)  received about three months ago from one of her best friends from their college years at Penn State.

This very nice friend (Connie) and her husband (Rob) have lived, and raised their two  sons along the way, in suburban Boston for the past 30-40 years.  Both are wonderful people, as are their two sons and their families.  Rob is a great guy, very personable, complete with a sharp sense of humor that I appreciated to the fullest.

Connie’s call was to update my nice wife with a couple of important items.  The most important was the fact that Rob had been diagnosed a few months earlier with ALS (amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”).  As many of you know, this is a serious condition affecting one’s peripheral nervous system.  It is a progressive disease, and as of 2019, there is no known effective treatment.  Rob’s condition was now progressing whereby his ability to effectively speak had ceased, and he was beginning to be generally weaker throughout, finding standing and walking to be an increasingly difficult part of his daily activities.

Then about a month ago, my nice wife got another call from Connie inviting us to a fundraiser in downtown Boston, organized by three or four of their many friends, to raise funds for some now promising ALS research to be donated in Rob’s name.  My nice wife and I checked our respective schedules and decided almost immediately that we could, and would, attend, showing our support for Rob as well as the effort to perhaps finally find a cure for ALS.

Then, since the event in Rob’s honor was to be held a couple of days after my nice wife’s birthday, we decided to head to Boston a day or two early, and make it a memory-filled 3 days in Boston to celebrate her birthday as well, since that is where we met back in 1971, and dated for about a year and a half before getting married shortly before we headed to Durham, North Carolina and my two years of graduate school before returning north to New England and specifically, Maine.

During the past 40+ years, living in Maine most of that time, we have returned to Boston a number of times, and among other activities, returning to some of our favorite places in that fascinating city.  Yet, it has been most of those years since we returned to one of our favorite “cheap dates”…the Elizabeth Stuart Gardner Museum….so we did.

The original museum has not changed one iota in 120 years, (with the exception of the still missing 13 pieces of irreplaceable paintings, of course) per Ms. Gardner’s will.  None of the hundreds of remaining pieces of art on the wall nor the many sculptures, nor the spectacular Italianate architecture inspired by buildings in old Venice and its magnificent open atrium in the center has changed.

We were also treated to opera singers in that open central atrium taking their turn singing selected arias that echoed throughout the entire 4-story “palace” or “palazzo”.

Bottom line:  We highly recommend a couple of hours (at least) at the spectacularly beautiful and ornate Gardner Museum during your next trip to Boston…and learning more of the fascinating story about “The Biggest Art Theft in American History”.

The beautiful open atrium of Boston’s Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum Allen Wicken

By the way, as we approached the entrance to finally (and gladly) pay an entrance fee to the museum, we noticed something below the fee schedule for adults, children and seniors…that stated:  “Active Duty Military and Veterans are Admitted Free, as are up to three of their guests”.  I was admitted free years ago as an active duty soldier….and now again as a veteran….along with my very nice wife.

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

                                                                    Garrison Kiellor

I’ll be ridin’ shotgun, underneath the hot sun, feelin’ like a someone….


Per usual, your thoughts and comments are more than welcome.  Jot them down on a 3”x5” card and slip it inside the log door of our mudroom on the rockbound west shore of Gull Pond…or simply launch an email to [email protected]

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