Progress at the Gardner Museum?

Another push was made in finding the lost paintings. I’m talking, of course, about the $500 million worth of stolen paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA—you know, that famously unsolved art theft from 1990.

A little recap for those who don’t know the story (meaning you’re not from Massachusetts and/or don’t obsess over stories about art crimes): during the early morning of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as Boston police officers entered the security entrance of the museum, tied up the security guards, and stole 13 works of art including three Rembrandts, five Degas, Manet’s Chez Torini and Vermeer’s The Concert (I should note that while Vermeer is one of Europe’s most famous and praised painters, he only produced 34 known paintings in his lifetime, making his work particularly rare). The heist has remained unsolved even today, and has inspired numerous books (fiction and non-fiction), articles, documentaries and other films centered on the investigation. Everyone has his or her own theories on the heist at this point, and if you’re like me, your world kind of stops every time you see ‘Gardner Museum’ pop up in news headlines.

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The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum leaves the empty frames of its stolen paintings in the galleries—a reminder of the 1990 theft.

Even though we haven’t actually found the paintings yet, the story resurfaces every few months when the FBI has updates. Today, The Boston Globe announced that they believe that aging mobster Robert Gentile knows the location of the paintings. The article says that while he denies it, Gentile had attempted to sell the paintings for $500,000 a piece to an undercover FBI agent, however the deal was not completed because Gentile was indicted on charges of selling a gun to a convicted felon. The Globe stated that Gentile’s connection to the paintings resurfaced during a hearing in court this week over gun charges against him.

It seems that to make this information public would mean that the FBI had a good handle on everything, but knowing how traditional reporting works, I’m wondering if the mere mention of the Gardner Heist during Gentile’s hearing in court led The Boston Globe to reopen all of their old information—kind of a ‘Hey, it’s been 26 years, but we haven’t lost hope yet!” It makes sense—the story in itself is fascinating, and there are so many people who have a personal attachment to seeing the mystery finally solved.

I, personally, still think that Boston’s Whitey Bulger was somehow involved. The mystery seemed to have stalled for years until Bulger was captured in 2011 after disappearing 16 years before (It’s at this moment that I will openly admit my obsession to Boston crime stories). Think about it though—Bulger was the biggest, most feared mobster in Boston. Then he disappears in 1995—five years after the Gardener Heist! This is all speculation, of course, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Bulger were connected in some way. Maybe he wasn’t the mastermind behind the theft, but I’m sure he knew who was, and when he was finally captured, he could easily offer up that information in a deal in court. Drop a few charges in exchange for the names of those currently in possession of the artwork.

Really what this all comes down to is my hope to one day see those paintings. In 1990, I had no idea who Vermeer or Rembrandt were. But years of studying and gawking at these masters’ work, along with my dedication to reading every bit of literature surrounding the theft, has only made me desperate to see an end to this story—I would love nothing more than to learn where these paintings have hid for the last 26 years, and to see them safely returned to the empty frames that still haunt the Gardner Museum’s galleries.

Twitter in a Time of Tragedy

I remember when the Boston Marathon bombing happened. I was at my desk, going about what should have been a normal, uneventful day. I was probably working on a story, turning to my Twitter feed every few minutes for a distraction. Buzzfeed had a list of funny Kim Kardashian quotes, Jimmy Fallon was playing a game with his celebrity guest, Food 52 had just tweeted out a new recipe, and that stupid Bob’s Burger’s parody account I follow was making puns—like I said, a pretty normal day. And then the first tweet went live: Explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

This is the world we live in today, where a single moment can change your life, and for those of us on the sidelines, we have to watch the chaos unfold from the scrolling feed of our social media accounts.

Since the launch of Twitter in 2006, the term ‘real-time reporting’ has taken a precedence, requiring journalists to report the news as soon as they possibly can, starting first with a brief, 140 character post, which buys them about five minutes to get the first news story onto their website. That initial tweet is crucial though—social media has created the desire for immediate gratification in younger generations, and once we see that first tweet, we are left craving more.

For professional news sources, juggling that immediacy with accuracy has become somewhat of an art form. Keeping up with competition requires breaking the story before everyone else, reporting as the news develops, but if you get something wrong, the backlash seems to be greater than in the past. I remember with the Sandy Hook shooting, an incredibly sensitive story to cover, how accuracy was so important. And yet so many news sources were putting incorrect information out there—some made the situation seem less drastic, others made it seem worse. It took me a while to sift through the chatter to find the sources that were actually taking the time to confirm their report before putting it out there (which ironically was the BBC, who tweeted information five minutes after the other US sites).

So what exactly prompted me to discuss Twitter’s role in breaking news? Well, unfortunately, once again we have to watch tragedy unfold, this time at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., where a shooter opened fire around 10:38 a.m. PCT. By 11:38 a.m. PCT, reports confirmed the shooter was in custody, while the death toll stood at 10, with another 20 plus reported injured. The numbers are still rising, and I’m sure by the 10 p.m. news we’ll have a better idea of what happened. Until then, we wait and watch the reports trickle in over social media.

It’s heartbreaking to hear about another shooting. My good friend, Michele Richinick, over at Newsweek has spent much of her career writing about gun laws, and how our nation is shaped by gun-related tragedy. Today, she tweeted out that this is the 142nd reported shooting at a school since Sandy Hook.

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That’s 142 times that lives were shattered. Students who should be rushing to finish their homework assignments instead were rushing to escape; to save their lives. We can argue for years about gun control, but the fact still remains that our current laws aren’t working. You can always read more about my thoughts on gun control here.

What was unique to the coverage of this most recent horror though, was the tweet from one website. I’ve complained before about how it irritates me that during a time of crises, many Twitter handles are still posting links to completely irrelevant things, and it always makes me angry. While I wait for more updates about the situation, I can’t stand the tweets about a new hair product, or how some online personality ‘can’t even’ over the latest poster of Zach Efron. The man buns and national food holidays that occupy our airspace on regular days suddenly become obsolete during times of tragedy. Which was why this tweet from Refinery29 will stick out:

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They get it. They understand the importance of sensitivity. Because when the world stops, you suddenly realize what really matters.

Update, Friday, October 2, 2015, 10:15 a.m.:

This shooting has brought up a discussion topic that breaks my heart–mass shootings have become so common in our country, that we have a routine for it. You could sense the anger in Obama’s speech as he went through, yet again, the same speech about senseless violence killing innocent Americans. “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” he said, making a clear statement that action needs to be taken regarding gun control. Because, for F*CK sake, why the hell does this keep happening?!

I also HIGHLY recommend you read this piece from Newsweek reporter Polly Mosendz on the routine of a reporter covering a mass shooting. “Mass death is prewritten in America,” she tells us. This is where we stand, America.