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Subject: Fire at Biedenharn Museum report

Fire at Biedenharn Museum report

From: Patricia S. Griffin <cuprorivaite>
Date: Wednesday, October 13, 2004
    Fire at Biedenharn Museum
    report from Ralph Calhoun

    I've had tons of trouble sending this. My laptop's modem no
    longer works on the phone lines, our T-1 lines are toast and by
    the time I get home I'm heading for bed. I tried to send from a
    local coffee shop but did not seem to be able to send out bulk
    messages, so as I wait for some calls to be returned I'm doing
    emails and will try to re-send from the coffee shop at lunch

    On Sunday morning September 26, 2004 at approximately 3:30 am,
    someone broke an upstairs office window at the Biedenharn Museum
    and Gardens. The window was in the southernmost office of the
    Bible Museum building at 2004 Riverside Drive in Monroe. From
    what we can tell the motion detector which was directly beside
    the door went off and the perpetrator ran away. From our
    investigation it looked like they probably did not even enter
    the building.

    I treated the attempted break in a reasonable manner, assuming
    it had been carried out by a druggie, who was scared off by the
    alarm and headed to another house for safer pickings. We boarded
    up the window and figured we would call our contractor Monday
    morning to replace the window. While this was disturbing it
    seemed to be a small problem in the grand scheme of life.

    On Monday morning, September 27, 2004 almost twenty-four hours
    exactly from the previous morning's break-in, someone broke
    through the window and set the office on fire. My curator of
    collections responded to an alarm call and when he arrived the
    museum was in flames with three fire stations and a number of
    police responding. I arrived on the scene shortly after four, I
    did not leave the museum for the next twenty hours and in the
    days and nights that have followed I have had very little sleep.

    Only one office received much damage from flames, but that
    office, the office of Christine Hilliard our assistant director
    and Jean Dixon our activities coordinator, was gutted. The
    offices and collections storage areas, next to these had minimal
    fire damage around a doorway but this office as well as the
    entire second floor received extensive smoke and water damage.
    You cannot imagine what it looked like without being there.
    Everything upstairs was black with oily soot. The first day you
    could not spend more than five minutes in the upstairs offices.

    Downstairs we faced water damage. Fortunately the firefighters
    quickly removed the Russian Icon Exhibit that was on the first
    floor, it was a loaned exhibit.

    As of today, Sunday October 2, 2004 we have moved all
    collections to a new area to be assessed, inventoried, cleaned
    and unfortunately for some piece thrown away. We know we lost
    some historical photographs, diaries, and a large set of Coke
    Posters. However much was saved through the efforts of Justin
    French and Christine Hilliard who have made hundreds of boxes to
    hold our books, rare documents and other items. Much more would
    have been lost with out these boxes protecting our treasures.

    The rarest books and bibles were in a closed closet off my
    office and most were boxed. The boxes, called "phase boxes by us
    museum people, (I have no idea what the term "Phase" means).
    These have survived well though the soot got to their boxes even
    through two closed doors.

    We are currently accessing what was lost, what is salvageable
    and what is not.

    The Biedenharn Museum and Gardens staff and board has been
    incredible they have chipped in, worked diligently to clean out
    the museum. We have determined not to let this tragedy stop us,
    by Tuesday morning were we had a family tour our historic home
    (A separate building from the Bible Museum) and on Wednesday we
    were officially open with Brides having portraits and tours
    being conducted in the house and gardens. Visitor have to wear
    protective booties to insure they and out tour guides do not
    track soot into the Biedenharn home. Ironically the home just
    re-opened the Tuesday before the fire after being closed for
    nine months for electrical, lighting, safety and other
    renovations, including a state of the art sprinkler system. My
    long range plan was to have sprinklers put in the Bible museum
    in 2006.

    As much as this has affected objects and buildings it has also
    affected people. I was supposed to go to Cambodia the Wednesday
    after the fire, but I did not. Our Collections curator was
    moving from an apartment to his new house the week of the fire,
    so he works himself to death here at the museum hauling and
    moving stuff, only to get off work to do the same at home. Our
    Assistant Director had been in the hospital for high blood
    pressure the week prior to the fire.

    We have had a number of friends help us out including Sue
    Prudhomme and Scott Higginbotham of the Masur Museum of Art,
    Shannon Glasheen of the LA state Museum arrive Tuesday to help
    us organize our recovery efforts. All those training sessions at
    conferences and workshops pretty much fizzle when you look at
    *your collection* smoldering; it was a great benefit to have her
    come up from New Orleans with a clear plan. After Shannon Left
    Wendy Jessup arrived from Virginia to further help us. Carolyn
    Files a former employee helped as did Lestar Martin. Other have
    volunteered to help next week. Cathy Biedenharn, my Board
    President's wife has spent many hours helping. We are currently
    looking for conservators with paper and book experience.

    All this being said we are blessed. No one was hurt, some stuff
    has been saved and the sun keeps coming up.

    Ralph Calhoun, Executive Director
    Biedenharn Museum and Gardens
    flyingcactus [at] bayou__com

                  Conservation DistList Instance 18:18
                Distributed: Thursday, October 14, 2004
                       Message Id: cdl-18-18-002
Received on Wednesday, 13 October, 2004

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