On June 18, Detroit, which has been wallowing in something like $18 billion of debt, became the largest city in U.S. history to seek bankruptcy protection.
Detroit's creditors have already vowed to go to war over a proposal by the city's emergency financial manager to settle with them for just pennies on the dollar. Now they're floating the nuclear option: forcing a sell-off of the holdings of the museum of the Detroit Institute of Arts, which is home to 60,000 pieces of art, including one of the world's largest collections of historically significant puppets.
One of the stars of the museum's puppet collection is Howdy Doody, the diminutive, freckle-faced cowboy who previously starred in his own 1950s-era children's show on the NBC television network. Some legal experts, according to CNN, say there's a risk that Mr. Doody - that's what Buffalo Bob Smith, the other star of the show, often called him - could wind up riding into the sunset with many of the museum's 800 or so other residents, including one of Muppet creator Jim Henson's Kermit the Frog puppets.
The 27-inch Howdy Doody marionette, which the museum acquired in 2001, could fetch $400,000 to $500,000 at auction, according to Gary Busk, a puppet historian and collector who's been featured on the PBS television program Antiques Roadshow. Others have estimated its value at up to $1 million.
Graham Beal, the director and president of the Detroit Institute of the Arts, told CNN in May that the museum's entire collection could be worth billions of dollars. His estimate apparently caught the attention of Kevyn Orr, Detroit's state-appointed emergency financial manager, who asked for an inventory of the museum's holdings. Orr's request triggered a wave of angst-ridden speculation that the DIA's collection could be sold to help pay off the city's debt.
Soon after that, Bill Schuette, the state's attorney general, said that Detroit can't sell any of the DIA's holdings, offering his opinion that the museum's collection is held "in charitable trust for the people of Michigan." But legal experts say that Schuette's opinion isn't binding and isn't likely to carry much weight with the bankruptcy court.
During his first public comments on the bankruptcy during a July 19 press conference, Orr declared, "Nothing is for sale, including Howdy Doody."
Orr, however, may not have the last word. For now, the prized puppet sits in a museum warehouse - it hasn't been on display since 2009 - until someone once again says, "It's Howdy Doody time!"
Photo: "Double Doody," Howdy Doody's stand-in puppet, on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution.
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