‘No’ To The Conley Hall Of Fame And Lottery
Anyone wondering what the Patrick Conley Heritage Hall of Fame would look like need go no further than the book store/gift shop in the State House Visitors Center (seen here — all six are Conley titles). I have written about this before and a recent visit to the book store shows that very little has changed. Virtually every book for sale in the shop was written by Patrick Conley. Conspicuous by their absence are legitimate works of scholarship like “Sons of Providence” by Charles Rappleye, “The Wordy Shipmates” by Sarah Vowell, “Liberty of Conscience” by Martha Nussbaum, and perhaps most egregious of all, not one copy of “The People’s Martyr: Thomas Wilson Dorr and his 1842 Rhode Island Rebellion” by Erik J. Chaput. Dorr is a figure of such historical significance that we recently installed a (kinda creepy, weirdly appealing) statue of the man outside the Senate chamber.
Real estate developer Patrick Conley holds the title ‘historian laureate,’ a position that was created for/by Conley in 2012 following a seven year campaign by him. Check out his website for the saga of his “Elusive Quest.” It is his company, the Rhode Island Publications Society (ooh, a society), that controls the inventory and that is why all the titles are his. (Steve Ahlquist at RIFuture has suggested that it might be time for a new historian laureate, Scott Molloy. I second the motion.)
Now comes the endlessly self-promoting Mr. Conley with a new and terrible plan for funding a new and terrible idea. He wants to institute a new special Rhode Island lottery to fund the building of a Hall of Fame and Rhode Island History Center in Bristol (ProJo 5.23.16). (Guess who’s already the President of the hall of Fame.) No word in the article about how he expects to fund this venture year after year, but he was asked,
How long will the fundraising drive go on?
“Until we get our money,” Conley said.
Bigger point: We don’t need this museum! Conley insists that we are one of only a few states without a state museum. So what? Rhode Island is rich with smaller, but beautiful, museums located where the history actually happened. The preservation efforts of untold volunteers and forward-thinking legislators have paid off all across the state. Here’s a short list from the top of my head: The Stephen Hopkins House, the John Brown House, Gilbert Stuart House, Museum of Natural History, Slater Mill, all the Newport mansions, Smith’s Castle, the Museum of Work & Culture, Coggeshall Farm, the Haffenreffer Museum, the wacky and wonderful JWU Culinary Museum, and of course the RISD Museum has our Gorham Silver heritage safe, and on display, and is unlikely to give any of it up for this new venture. I’m guessing the star of the show in the Conley Hall of Fame is going to be that damned flannel shirt worn by Governor Garrahy in the Blizzard of ’78. The kids will go wild for that — they love to hear about old weather.
Rhode Island Public Radio had a piece last week by Ian Donnis (5.23.16) in which he canvassed some economic experts for their opinions on this project.
Gary Sasse, director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, a former state Revenue director and longtime former head of a business-backed fiscal watchdog group, said creating a new lottery for a particular purpose is a slippery slope.
“It’s a very bad idea,” Sasse said.
Sasse has more to say on how many ways this is a bad idea.
Apparently there is to be a fundraising kickoff event for the museum on June 14th at Conley’s Wharf Building on Allens Avenue. But please, if you have money to spend on preserving Rhode Island’s history and culture, consider giving directly to one of the worthy organizations mentioned above.
And if you are looking for a fantastic selection of books on Rhode Island history head over to the Roger Williams National Memorial. Even with their focus on the 17th century, they’ve come up with a much wider variety of authors. And by the way, the tchotchkes there are also waaaay better. Mugs, caps, one great T-shirt I may go back for, etc.
I would like to mention that Nicole Lagace of the Office of the Secretary of State has been very helpful. She looked up some facts and figures from the bookstore that neither impress nor shock. Mr. Conley is not getting rich off of this scheme, but neither are the people of Rhode Island. She added,
Secretary Gorbea reconvened the Visitor Center and Gift Shop Committee in March. They have been meeting bi-weekly to draft and finalize a business plan that will focus on ways to expand the inventory and marketing of the Visitor Center.
Here are my recommendations to Secretary Gorbea: First, lose Mr. Conley. Then take the committee to the Roger Williams National Memorial (below) for your next meeting. That’s what the gift should look like.