NYC history buff sues Intrepid museum

says Iwo Jima photos gone
April 3, 2008 7:41:21 AM PDT
A history buff has sued a museum, claiming it lost several of his World War II-era photographs, including the famous shot of the U.S. flag raising on Mount Suribachi, on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. Rodney Hilton Brown says the photos were part of the World War II memorabilia that he loaned to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which is sited on a retired aircraft carrier usually docked in the Hudson River, initially in 1995 and again in 2005.

Brown, a mortgage broker who collects historical artifacts as a hobby, said at least eight out of 52 pictures were missing when the museum returned his collection to him at his vacation home at Fairhaven, Mass., in November 2006.

The museum returned most borrowed items to owners after it decided during the summer of 2006 to put the Intrepid in dry dock for repairs, Brown said.

He said photos missing from his collection included the iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning shot by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal of Marines raising Old Glory on Mount Suribachi. He said the missing photos were worth about $175,000.

Museum president Bill White issued a statement saying, "We are surprised and disappointed to hear of the filing of this lawsuit. We have referred this matter to our insurance representatives."

White said the museum used its "limited resources" to honor and support the country's military members and their families.

"This unfortunate action detracts from our carrying out this critically important national mission," he said.

Brown, 64, said he bought Rosenthal's personal album of original photographs from the Battle of Iwo Jima from a retired U.S. Air Force major in 1990 for $5,000. The major "had gotten it from the photographer himself," he said.

An appraiser hired by Brown estimated in a June 2007 report that the lost pictures were worth about $175,000, his court papers say.

Brown's lawsuit, filed Tuesday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, accuses the museum of negligence and breach of fiduciary duty for taking the album apart to display certain photos and then losing some of them. It seeks $175,000 in damages.

"The integrity of the entire album was destroyed by a series of negligent actions," Brown's court papers say.

Besides being irreplaceable to him, the papers say, the pictures will be lost to scholars and national history museums.