Hitler's Desk, Death of a Bookstore, and Premium Problems

Houstonian Jack McConn has a desk set he wants to sell.

It's not just any old desk set, mind you. It's the one Hitler used to sign the Munich Pact back in 1938. (For those of you who skipped history class that day, the Munich Pact was an agreement by France, Britain, Italy and the up-and-coming Führer that allowed Germany to annex Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. Czechoslovakia, it should be noted, was not asked for any input. The Munich Pact is considered to have been a major milestone leading to WWII.)

As WWII was winding down, McConn, a young GI, was in Munich, guarding the building that had once been Hitler's headquarters. "I was a lieutenant at the end of the war," he told Hair Balls by phone. "My CO had assigned me and my platoon to guard a place called the Feuerbau, which had been Hitler's headquarters in Munich. I found a desk set in the cellar of the building. I boxed it up and sent it to my dad."


Munich Pact

"I was just looking for a souvenir. I didn't realize that it was the desk on which the Munich Pact was signed. Then maybe ten or 12 years ago...I saw a newsreel that showed Hitler, Mussolini and Daladier, and Chamberlain signing the Pact and they were using that desk set."

By then the desk made the rounds from his father's office to McConn's office and then to McConn's home. When he realized the historical (and hopefully financial) significance of the desk set, McConn wisely moved it to a bank vault. McConn and his family decided the 70th anniversary of the Munich Pact would be a good time to test the waters and see what the desk set might bring at auction.

Estimates in Europe put the possible price tag at half a million pounds (that's around $900,000 in American dollars). "I think it will bring more than that, but I'm no expert on it, the Lord knows," McConn says. (The 85-year-old McConn, who is still a practicing trial lawyer in Houston, has exciting plans for the money: "I'll put it in a bank account," he says, "and leave it to my children." Take that, Bill Gates.)

"I've had it longer than Hitler did," McConn laughs. "But still, it's a unique piece. It has a great deal of historical ­significance."

Enough historical significance to warrant his donating it to a museum?

"It depends on what the museum is willing to pay for it," he says, smoothly skipping over the "donating" part. "I think I'm entitled to the value, whatever it is. If a museum steps up and pays enough for it, well then fine. The best place for it really would be in a museum; more people would have access to it under those ­circumstances."

And what if someone who is pro-Hitler buys it as a remembrance of the Führer?

"I would not like that at all," McConn says firmly. But, experienced lawyer that he is, he doesn't rule the possibility out. Would he withdraw the desk set from sale if a pro-Hitler group makes the winning bid? "Well, I guess I have to wait and see all the circumstances in order to answer that question," he says thoughtfully. "We just have to use our judgment on that."

— Olivia Flores Alvarez

Death of a Bookstore

Midsummer Books was a great little bookstore, nestled in an old building, with comfortably worn chairs, shelves full of an eclectic selection, friendly staff.

Unfortunately, it was located near the Strand in Galveston.

"All those shops and restaurants on Strand, Mechanic and Postoffice were hit bad, and Midsummer Books got eight feet of muddy water which soaked and ruined everything, books, furniture, computer equipment, etc.," owner Tim Thompson says by e-mail. "Luckily I have flood insurance so I will most likely get compensated for the loss. However, this is one of those times in life where tough decisions have to be made and for a variety of reasons I have decided not to ressurect Midsummer Books," he says.

While the decision makes a great deal of sense — it's hard to imagine an independent bookseller having a big market in Galveston for a while — it's also a shame.

Midsummer Books really reflected the community, in both its inventory and its attitude.

Sorry to see it go.

— Richard Connelly

Lots of Gas, Just Not Premium

Unlike the gas shortage in Georgia and other southern states, fuel supplies in Houston have pretty much returned to normal.

Unless you're looking for premium gas.

Many stations have focused on getting as much regular gas as possible, leaving consumers who use premium gas ­scrambling.

Since they are mostly the kind of people who drive BMWs or other luxury vehicles, sympathy may be limited, but it's still becoming a bit of a struggle.

And there's been some gouging.

Dan Parsons of the Houston Better Business Bureau says he's heard of stations charging five bucks a gallon, and selling it like it was black-market gold.

"They'll tell people, 'I know where you can get some, but it's gonna cost you,'" he says.

Maybe you should have thought of that before you bought that Beemer, dude.

— Richard Connelly


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