Dispute over Items in Rayburn Library

Article excerpt

BONHAM, Texas - Some congressmen say legendary House Speaker Sam Rayburn "confiscated" a few items from his power days in Washington and put them on display in this small community just a stone's throw from the Oklahoma state line.

That doesn't sit well with folks who believe the controversy isn't a legitimate issue and insults the late Mr. Rayburn.

At issue are a handful of memorabilia items shipped here by Mr. Rayburn in 1957, when the library and museum bearing his name was opened. He died in 1961.

Congressional officials - for the record, anyway - aren't claiming that the items were stolen by Mr. Rayburn or his henchmen. They only say that the items - an ancient Grecian urn, a huge chandelier that once hung in the White House and a marble rostrum - belong to the nation and should be displayed prominently in the U.S. Capitol.

Texas officials and residents of Bonham, where the Rayburn showcase is the biggest tourist attraction for several counties around, don't plan to return the items.

"We've got a town in an uproar down here," said Jeff Sels, editor of the Bonham Daily Favorite. "People around here are pretty attached to that stuff. There is a lot of tradition here and Sam Rayburn built a lot of that."

Don Carlton, director of the University of Texas' Center for American History in Austin, said the items are university property.

"Once they become fully informed as to the facts of the matter, I feel there will be a happy resolution," he added.

But Jason Poblete, spokesman for the House Administration Committee, said the items have "historical and special significance to the House and they need to be returned right now. …