Museum Director Reflects on Fire That Destroyed St. Clair Facility, Exhibits - The Missourian: Local News

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Museum Director Reflects on Fire That Destroyed St. Clair Facility, Exhibits

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Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2014 3:00 pm

In the museum world, sadly, many items are irreplaceable, said Marc Houseman,Washington Historical Society Museum director.

Houseman reflected on the tragedy that hit St. Clair, after its historical museum was destroyed in a blaze this past Sunday.

“It’s so sad — it was a real gem in St. Clair’s crown,” Houseman said. “They really had a nice museum there.”

The Washington Historical Society Museum does have some safeguards that could help salvage items if there were ever a fire.

The museum has smoke detectors hard-wired to trigger an alarm. If the alarm sounds, an alarm company will immediately notify authorities. Fire extinguishers also are located on site.

Last year, a new computer system also was installed that allows the museum to back up documents and collections.

So far, about 15,000 to 20,000 of the museum’s 30,000 photographs have been backed up and stored in an online, cloud-based system.

Day-to-day activities and membership information is backed up automatically. Collections, including three-dimensional artifacts are in the process of being entered into the computer system.

If the museum catalogs were destroyed, “at least we would have a record of what was here,” Houseman said.

Additionally, Houseman said housing the museum in a brick building could make it more fire resistant, although it wouldn’t help with some types of fires.

The museum does not have a sprinkler system, Houseman said. Retrofitting an older building or even installing sprinklers in a new building is “extremely cost prohibitive,” he said.

When the AME building was refurbished, Houseman said he looked into adding a sprinkler system. The building houses more than 500 volumes of court records.

“We simply could not afford it,” he said.

Industry leaders are still out on whether installing a sprinkler system at a historical museum is a good idea because of the potential for water damage.

“If sprinklers go off, anything that’s not glass or metal is going to perish anyway,” he said “Even if the water doesn’t destroy it, it could start to mold and that’s almost an irreversible process.

“Really, you’re darned if you do and you’re darned if you don’t,” he said.

While Houseman said it sounds like a good thing to put out a fire as quickly as possible, a lot of experts say you’re not doing yourself a favor.

As for other safeguards, Houseman said there really aren’t any.

“We all try to be safe and smart, but there’s only so much you can do,” he said. “We just hope and pray nothing ever happens.”

If the Washington Historical Society Museum were to perish, Houseman said there would be no choice but to start over.

“Hopefully the St. Clair community will rally around them and they will recover from this,” he said. “Wonderful things can happen. You have to pull up your boot straps and try to start collecting again.”

The items lost are irreplaceable, but “hopefully there’s more out there somewhere,” he said.

/local_news

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