<i>In The News:</i> Another Transylvania Book Theft, World's Worst Poet at Auction, Abe's Top Ten
By Michael Stillman
Transylvania University, of Lexington, Kentucky, is back in the news this month for thefts at its library. Transylvania was the victim of a bizarre book theft four years ago when four college-age young men, including a student, tied up a librarian and made off with valuable works, including some Audubon items. However, they left a trail of emails to Christie's that led to their downfall when they attempted to have the items auctioned. Recently, their appeal to have their sentences reduced resulted in just the opposite - an increase in the time they must serve.
At issue this time is a much older theft, though one only just realized. The FBI charged an Indiana man on May 19 with stealing several items related to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his wife, Varina, back in 1994. However, the theft went unknown for years as Transylvania had not conducted an inventory of its Jefferson Davis collection in decades. It only came to light when the items were put up for auction at Alexander Auctions in Stamford, Connecticut. A Davis expert in Texas recognized them as belonging to the collection at Transylvania and contacted the university. A review of the logs at the library along with who brought the items to the auction house revealed the timing of the theft and suspect.
Charged was 70-year-old Eugene Zollman of LaPorte, Indiana. Zollman is said to be a Davis collector and impersonator, one who researched everything he could find about the Confederate leader so that he could present impersonations at schools and events. Unlike Davis, who was imprisoned for two years but never tried after the Civil War, Zollman will soon have his day in court. Meanwhile, Transylvania, which Davis attended in the 1820s, has beefed up its security as a result of the earlier theft.
In a long overdue tribute to his genius, a collection of 35 broadsheet poems by William McGonagall, most signed by the poet himself, was sold at auction by Lyon and Turnbull this past May 16. The collection took in £5,500, or a little over $10,000. McGonagall would have been pleased by the positive recognition. The British lyricist from Dundee has long been saddled with the reputation of "the world's worst poet."
McGonagall was noted for writing poetry about either banal topics, or recent tragedies in a sing-song type of rhyme that even his contemporaries recognized as horrid. Reportedly, when he gave readings, people would jeer and throw vegetables at him. McGonagall was unfazed. He continued to write and recite, never doubting his talent. Talented he was, though perhaps not in the way he imagined. He was the greatest at his art - the art of bad poetry.