Putnam County trustees weigh in on changing library's name over founder's alleged Nazi ties

Desmond-Fish Library staff, its Board of Trustees and a special working group are finishing up a year-long review of the library's founder, the late Hamilton Fish III.

Ben Nandy

Feb 21, 2024, 11:05 PM

Updated 58 days ago

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Trustees of a Putnam County library are deciding whether to change the library's name, following a podcast installment that alleges the library's founder was a Nazi sympathizer.
Desmond-Fish Library staff, its Board of Trustees and a special working group are finishing up a year-long review of the library's founder, the late Hamilton Fish III.
The review was brought on by reports in 2022, including an installment of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow's podcast, "Ultra."
For the fifth episode, Maddow dug up allegations that Fish - a Hudson Valley congressman from 1920 to 1945 - allowed Nazi propaganda to be sent to Americans using his congressional mail privileges, which allowed him to send mail free of cost.
Maddow also shared statements in which Fish seemed to support the Nazi regime.
A collection of interviews conducted by News 12 with Putnam County residents shows a split among the public on whether to rename the library.
"The whole world is in trouble," Cold Spring resident Gail Brown-Duggan said, wondering aloud if the in-depth review of Fish's career was necessary, "so this seems minor."
"If it is true that he was a Nazi sympathizer, it (renaming the library) should be something that happens because this is America," county resident and father of two Andrew Cortazzo said Wednesday during a break between errands. "We fought fascism for a reason, right?"
An anonymous 10-member working group, commissioned by the library's board, just released a final report for the board to review.
Seven members support a name change - three do not.
One member wrote that "changing the name would not be to punish Hamilton Fish III, but to avoid broadcasting values antithetical to the library's mission."
Another who is against a name change wrote that until 2022 there was consensus that Hamilton Fish III's overall legacy indeed was compatible with values of the library," listing bullet points to support their viewpoint.
The group member mentioned that Fish took heroic combat actions during World War I, advocated for the civil rights of Black Americans and initiated the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument.
Of the 521 nearby residents surveyed for the report, a little more than half want to keep the current library name.
A little less than half believe the name should at least be modified.
The library's director said Wednesday the trustees are not yet ready to comment as they are "still taking in everything" from the working group's report.
The board will hold a special meeting on March 9 to discuss the report.
The board may hold a vote on March 9 or at another future meeting on whether to change the library's name.
Reached by email Wednesday afternoon, Russell Pyne, a grandson of Hamilton Fish III questioned the reports and referenced the "relatively recent disclosure of the pre-WWII efforts by the British government to discredit my grandfather."
"I’m not opposed to renaming the Library for the right reasons," he wrote in response to a question about whether he would support a new library name. "After all, it is a community library not a family museum. However, I would be disappointed if the Library were renamed as a result of a sensationalistic and incomplete story."


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