Home Museum institution Philadelphia Insectarium robbery: consequences, financial problems and internal conflicts

Philadelphia Insectarium robbery: consequences, financial problems and internal conflicts

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After the “robbery”, Cambridge called the police, who sent armed officers to question Mumper and other employees at their home, including Anthony Mangiola, a teenage trainee who was still in high school at the time.

Mangiola said officers first interrogated him at home without his parents present, then later he was interrogated at a police station for about three hours.

“I remember following everything that happened. For about six months, every time someone came to the door out of the blue and knocked, my body would seize,” Mangiola said. “I would just stop. If someone rang the doorbell unexpectedly. I would stop.

Neither Mumper, Tomasetto nor Mangiola have been charged with any crime.

A Philadelphia police detective handling the case said earlier this year the case remains open.

‘Bug Out’ and the fallout

A recent documentary series on IMDB TV, which aired last spring, has now brought the missing bug case back into the spotlight. This four-part series – titled ‘Bug Out’ – featured ex-Cambridge workers’ argument that they simply brought their own bugs back with them after quitting.

Butterflies land on everything in the butterfly pavilion. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Cambridge, represented by his father who is a lawyer and also a museum board member, has now sued the filmmakers and some of the interviewees, including Mumper, Tomasetto and Rzepnicki, for defamation.

The museum’s financial problems continued after the creatures disappeared. In 2018, the museum became a non-profit organization to “enable the avoidance of taxes that society was unable to pay”, as Cambridge explained in a lawsuit against Rzepnicki, the former director. museum operations.

In 2019, an employee who at the time worked in animal care said the department continued to be underfunded. They remembered buying animal feed and gasoline for tourist shows, without being reimbursed. The employee also stated that he was doing construction work for which he did not feel qualified. Cambridge maintains that the insectarium reimburses the work expenses of employees. WHYY has agreed to withhold this person’s name as they fear retaliation from Cambridge.

“We just knew that John was a little eccentric and it was just kind of something that we all laughed at and knew… But I don’t think I really realized how harmful his… eccentric nature really was to people. people around him and the museum as a whole,” the employee said.

A visible example of this that former employees point to is at the back of the museum, where 24 old shipping containers are stacked in what Cambridge calls ‘the sandcastle’, a structure he designed himself. and described as a work of art. It increased at the end of 2019.

Shipping containers are randomly placed on open ground.
An outdoor event space, comprised of shipping containers, added in late 2019 to the Insectarium & Butterfly Pavilion in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“There’s so little else here that … serves as a community beacon, and so if we have the opportunity to create something that you can see from Frankford Avenue and … generate more interest in that area, we’ll do it,” Cambridge said.

He said he would like to see it become a playhouse and plaza.

It certainly caught people’s attention, said Trisha Nichols.

“It caused some commotion when all these shipping containers started coming in and they’re kind of rusty and ugly and piling up behind a building… people across the street were calling and complained,” she recalls.

The “sandcastle” and the museum itself also caught the attention of the Philadelphia Department of Licensing and Inspections. The Insectarium has 46 infractions in its ownership historyand failed most of its inspections.

Cambridge said the violations are simply demands that the city asks them to fulfill, and it tracks them all.

“Whatever you’re watching, there’s something we’re aware of and addressing with the city,” he said. “We are… eagerly compliant.”

Keeping the museum afloat was “a giant game of Sudoku”

Michael O’Leary, who briefly worked for the Insectarium and has been a friend of Cambridge for more than a decade, said he saw a different side to Cambridge. With him, he says, every day is a new adventure.

“It was fun and exciting, but it was a little chaotic at times,” he said. “He was like a real juggernaut. There was no stopping him. Whatever he wanted, it had to happen.

“It aimed for the stars and settled on the moon. So he had these very huge giant projects and ideas that he wanted to accomplish that were probably impossible. So if he was shooting there and we came to him and said, ‘Well, we’ve done half of it’, then he’d be like, ‘Cool, okay, well, that’s half .”

A new event space in the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion, featuring a creature mural. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

However, O’Leary said the quality also made it difficult to work with Cambridge – particularly if you hadn’t bought into his vision or wanted to push as hard as he did to get something done.

“There were times when I resisted because I thought, ‘That’s not the procedure for this…We have to do this…according to the book’…He threw the book away.” said O’Leary. “He was like, ‘We just need to figure out what we’re doing here, figure out how to do it, or get close to it.'”

Cambridge said that after a few years as CEO he had learned “not to be bullied so much. There is no possibility that you will make everyone happy.

“I’ve been bullied many times…by people who would just say, ‘you don’t know what you’re doing, so you shouldn’t be doing it.’ … No one knows what they do to begin with. That’s no excuse not to do it and not get things done. It is a call to learn quickly and to do so with humility,” Cambridge said.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Nichols was still working at the insectarium. She decided to create virtual classes, and later in-person classes, on insects and science that local schools would pay for. She said the work environment at the insectarium remained the same and scheduling classes was difficult as she had to balance virtual and in-person classes, the time it would take to drive, which employees liked young children. , who liked to work with which animals… and so on. on.

“It was like a giant game of Sudoku.”

“Money was tight and turnover was crazy. But you know what? I was actively teaching the kids, interacting with the kids every day, watching their faces light up… The reason I stayed was for that,” Nichols said.

Trisha Nichols was director of education at the Philadelphia Insectarium and the Butterfly Pavilion. She now teaches online courses on entomology. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

That changed last year. Cambridge created and sold art classes, including juggling classes, which Nichols believed she and her team of science teachers weren’t really qualified to teach. She said that as director of education, she would like to have a say in what courses the museum offers, and to lose that was to lose the freedom to create programs and carry them out. So she eventually resigned.

“It ended with him wanting to teach…my educators how to juggle.”

“I absolutely loved the place while I was there and I absolutely loved the work I was doing and I loved the impact I was having on the kids and I wouldn’t change that for the world,” she said. “I also know that the insectarium was actively transforming into a place I didn’t really want to be a part of…I get a little sad every once in a while…walking past and knowing I’m not there. ”

She continues to teach science and insect classes through her own business.

In May, Cambridge filed for personal bankruptcy. He said he hadn’t had a salary for a long time and had invested all his money in the insectary.

“I’m proud of my bankruptcy,” Cambridge said. “I did everything I said I was going to do to try to protect, save and grow this place.”