This isn't easy, but it's time to call out some of our nation's political heroes for a dastardly deed: pilfering the Senate's warehouses. That's right; LBJ, Harry Truman, and others. It's time for your heirs and museums to cough up the goods, including rare mahogany and walnut desks, swivel chairs, and leather sofas made nearly a century ago just for the Russell Senate Office Building, which turns 100 in March. "We'd like them back," says Associate Senate Curator Melinda Smith. To prepare for the birthday, the curator's office is conducting an in-house search for the 3,109 Russell pieces, largely made by subcontractor S. Karpen Brothers of Chicago for the winning bidder, Geo. W. Cobb Jr. Back in 1908, Cobb won with his bid of $61,715 to build the first batch of 14 different office items for senators and their secretaries. So far, a remarkable 1,130 have been found in the Senate and, says Smith, "I really anticipate finding more." That's because a lot is likely in private hands, the result of some sticky finger work by senators and their aides. Let's be clear: Until a few years ago, there were no rules prohibiting taking furniture. It's most likely that ex-senators wanted them as keepsakes, especially the massive desks. Exactly 131 desks were made, and 72 are now accounted for in the search Smith compares to the thriller National Treasure. The curator's office says the Truman library has one, and two LBJ historical facilities in Texas have a desk each: A third was returned last year. Washington auction houses have also seen some of the rare pieces that have an elevated value because of the history. To make it easier to identify the Karpen furniture, Smith says she might make a wanted poster of the 14 types of furniture to put on the curator's website. As for past senators who have the relics, she says, "We can't tell members what to do, but we would like to excite them to restore our stuff."
Illustrations by Joe Ciardiello for USN&WR