A badge of Sheriff John Harris Behan, the first sheriff of the city of Tombstone, Ariz., dating to 1883, is one of thousands of items up for bid at an auction in City Island, Pa., this week.
The city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital, has been ridden with a massive debt since costs to rebuild a municipal trash incinerator spiraled into a $300 million albatross.
Might some relics from the Wild West ride to the rescue?
As Day 1 of a week-long auction started Monday morning, auctioneer Arlan Ettinger said he is confident thousands of historical items from the American West will help salve the city's financial woes.
“It’s not just a mixed bag of antiques,” said Ettinger, the head of Guernsey’s Auction Co.
The trove of artifacts is actually the product of the failed vision of Harrisburg's former mayor Stephen Reed, who committed $8.3 million in taxpayer money toward historical artifacts that were scheduled to be on display in a now-derailed museum project.
Reed, the city’s mayor for 28 years, acquired more than 8,000 items over a 15-year span that he hoped would populate an Old West and African history-themed museum.
Reed lost a Democratic primary as the disastrous incinerator deal unfolded, and the museum was never built. The artifacts have been sitting in a storage unit for years. The collection includes artifacts from legends like Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, Gen. George Custer and Jesse James, American Indian items, Old West furniture and Spanish-American pottery and much more.
Ettinger said the story has piqued a lot of interest in the antique community, with more than 10,000 bidders signed up online.
“There are more people that are registered to bid in this than any other auction I’ve heard of,” he said.
Bidders can participate online, by calling in or by visiting the actual location in City Island, Pa., through the week.
Of the 8,000 items up for grabs in this at the Wild West auction, Ellinger said the rifles are likely to be the most popular. They will be auctioned Wednesday.
Current Mayor Linda Thompson predicted about $8 million in revenue from the auction. Some say that estimate is high and the city is likely to come out in the red on the deal, but Thompson said any money will help.
“If we can get a couple million out of that, then certainly the funds would be used to add to the sustainability of our community,” Thompson said.
The city has a contract with Ettinger's company to receive 85 percent of the proceeds by the end of 2013.