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United States v. Pritchard

October 17, 2003


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania D.C. Criminal No. 01-cr-00147-03 (Honorable Petrese B. Tucker)

Before: Scirica, Chief Judge, Nygaard and Becker, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scirica, Chief Judge.


Argued June 16, 2003


Defendant Russ Pritchard, Jr. was convicted of theft from a museum for his involvement in the misappropriation of a Civil War officer's uniform in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 668 (1994). At issue is whether the Hunt-Phelan Home Foundation, from whose care the uniform was taken, was a "museum" for purposes of the statute.*fn1


The Hunt-Phelan Home enjoys a colorful history of regional and national significance. Located on historic Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, the Hunt-Phelan Home was built between 1828 and 1832 by Ellis Moore Driver. The five-bedroom, 8,500 square foot antebellum mansion was designed in the federal style by Robert Mills, an architect well-known for his design of the Washington Monument, the U.S. Treasury Building, and parts of the White House. The Hunt-Phelan Home and its surrounding grounds contained many novel features for the time, including a gas plant for interior illumination, a hot air furnace, and the first swimming pool in Memphis. Bricks for its five-brick thick walls were pressed and dried in the front yard.

The house passed to Driver's daughter, who married William R. Hunt, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Confederate Army. When the Union army took control of Memphis, General Ulysses S. Grant established his headquarters in the house, and used its library as his personal office. The library's original inlaid parquet floors remain in excellent condition, in part because General Grant apparently required his soldiers to remove their boots before entering the room. After the war, the house returned to the control of the Hunt family, and later passed to their daughter, Julia Hunt, who married Colonel Phelan.

Over the years, the house remained an important residence and icon of antebellum architecture in Memphis, with prominent visitors including Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and President Andrew Jackson. When many of the historic mansions on Beale Street were demolished as part of an urban renewal project, the Hunt-Phelan Home was saved from destruction by order of President Lyndon Johnson. It survives today as perhaps the last of the great mansions of Beale Street.

The Hunt-Phelan Home was passed to successive family members and was inherited—along with its contents—by William B. Day, Jr. in 1992. When Day inherited the house, it was "packed to the rafters" with historical items from generations of family members, many of which dated back to the Civil War and earlier. To make way for major renovations to the house, Day packed up its contents into fourteen forty-five foot trucks, and shipped the items to an offsite warehouse to be inventoried and cataloged.

Later that year, Day formed the Hunt-Phelan Home Foundation, a Tennessee non-profit corporation, to preserve the property and to operate it as a tourist attraction. The Foundation received funding from, among others, the City of Memphis and Federal Express, a Memphis corporation. Day placed the Hunt-Phelan Home under the Foundation. In 1995, the Foundation entered into an agreement with Elvis Presley Enterprises, the operator of Graceland, to operate and manage the home as a tourist attraction. The house was opened to the public on a regular basis in 1996 with paid and volunteer staff providing walking tours and facilitating special events, such as weddings. By that time, the house was fully restored to approximate its condition in 1858. Many of the items previously removed were placed on display in the house, including several antebellum furniture pieces and thousands of books dating back as far as 1720. The remaining items—still owned by Day—were placed in a warehouse under the care and custody of the Foundation and Elvis Presley Enterprises.

In addition to other uses, the Foundation operated the Hunt-Phelan Home for educational purposes. Day and his sister, a teacher, joined with local school boards to develop a Civil War history curriculum and provided local teachers with a lesson plan for use during class trips to the home.

In 1996, Day contacted defendant Russ Pritchard, Jr. to assist him in evaluating and assessing several of the objects associated with the house. Pritchard, Jr. was the former curator of the Civil War Library and Museum in Philadelphia and a distant family member of Day. In the fall of 1996, Pritchard, Jr. traveled to Memphis to help determine which items should be exhibited in the house, with a special focus on Civil War-era military uniforms and objects. Pritchard, Jr. selected two Civil War ...

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