Monday, November 13, 2017

Monday, November 6, 2017

The 1883 Mystery of the Missing Bills

The State Library is getting ready to wrap up its years-long Massachusetts Legislative Documents digitization project!  The Legislative Documents are an ongoing series of volumes published by the state that contain mostly bills, but among these documents are also reports and other types of governmental communications.  This involved a lot of metadata creation and review on our part so that the documents are described in such a way that they can be found by researchers.  You can search or browse the collection by visiting the library’s DSpace documents depository:  

Having been heavily involved in the metadata side of this project, I’ve reviewed thousands of these documents going back to the early 19th century.  Early documents are especially interesting as they shed light on the state’s legislative activities during important periods of history; there was also much more published in the way of communications in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A more amusing communication to the legislature, submitted formally in June of 1883 ¬by Governor Benjamin F. Butler, always stood out to me due to its personal nature.  It involves the case of the missing bills, which inexplicably disappeared from Butler’s desk.  Other objects, he states, had also gone missing from his desk drawers on more than one occasion—drawers which he “either kept unlocked, or locked and the key deposited for convenience in another drawer.”  He goes on to state that normally he would find only himself responsible for these losses, however since there were multiple duplicate keys to the Executive offices floating around, the situation (without pointing any fingers) seemed suspicious.  After trying to rationalize why the bill went missing, he concludes:   “It is difficult to see what object any one could have in taking away that bill except pure mischief.”

Four days later, in a separate communication, Butler explains that the bills were located somewhere in Boston but that he cannot divulge further as to who, when, how, and where they were found due to an ongoing inquiry into the matter.  Unfortunately I have not been able to find a report or further communications that satisfy this question:  whodunit?

Links to full communications:
1883 House No. 395: Communication regarding the missing items
1883 House No. 397: Communication regarding the located bills

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department