Going to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston? Obsessed with the unsolved 1990 heist? I wrote up some advice for people who’re planning to visit the museum and interested in the case:
–Start on the ground floor. Imagine it to be March 18,1990, about two in the morning. The room would be dark and shadowy. A few revelers would be out on the street, stumbling their way home. Some bats might be skittering through the museums’s galleries.
–Look at this theft schematic from The Boston Globe to get a sense of how exactly the thieves moved through the building. If you’re feeling particularly inspired, follow the room-by-room movements of the thieves.
–Visit the Dutch Room. Stare into the silk wallpaper behind the empty frames. Wonder about the whereabouts of the paintings. Maybe bring John Updike’s poem “Stolen” and read it quietly to yourself.
–Check out the wooden cabinet near the door to the Dutch Room. Note the tiny holes on the side of the cabinet, right next to the door frame. They come from the screws that once secured the small artwork to the cabinet, and in many ways, they’re all that’s left of the Rembrandt self-portrait.
–Dwell on the mysteries of the case by visiting the Short Gallery. Ask yourself some of the questions that continue to haunt investigators today: Why did the thieves spend over an hour in the museum but only steal 13 items? Why did the crooks steal knickknacks like the finial from the top of the flag pole but not the near-by Michelangelo? Why did the two men never visit the third floor where the Titian hangs in all of its splendor?
–Stop in the gift shop. Notice that the museum doesn’t sell my book, The Gardner Heist, or any other book or movie or artwork devoted to the theft. The museum treats the caper very seriously–they don’t want to be seen as commercializing their tragic loss. And that’s a good thing.
–Remember that the Gardner is an intimate, powerful museum, a space devoted to the enjoyment of art. Don’t focus only on the heist; enjoy the other artworks. One of my favorites is Sargent’s El Jaleo on the ground floor. Can you hear the tap-tapping of the singer’s foot?
–Be respectful. The museum was the victim of a terrible crime, after all.
This item first appeared in The Open Case magazine.