by Mark Nye, Tarzan Deel and J.D. Hanes
Issue 304 - August 1998

NOTE: There were many photographs that accompanied this article, and for the benefit of our members on slow connections, we have moved the photographs to a Museum Flood Slide Show page. We suggest you read this article, the previous one from August 1998 entitled "A Deep Subject", and the corresponding article from September 1998, then view the slide show in its entirety.

Reaching the building by canoe and boat, several individuals (which included Mike Arent, Janice and Larry Hughes, and Carl Beynon) monitored the museum buildings and gave anxious members the bad new. Water had reached a level of approximately six feet on the exterior of the building. There was nothing to do but wait and plan for the recovery process. The Corning Museum of Glass had undergone a disastrous flooding in 1972 and they were contacted for guidance on how to begin the salvage operations once access to Iha building was possible. Floodwaters in the Cambridge area crested early Tuesday morning and later in the day started to recede.

By Wednesday. the water level was dropping fast and late Wednesday it became apparent that access to the museum would happen the next day. To prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining access to the museum, Lynn Welker, Carl Beynon, Mike Arent, and Rich Bennett spent Wednesday evening at the storage building. By early Thursday morning both the museum property and the road were clear of water.

First to enter the building were Carl Beynon and an electrician to make sure there were no electrical hazards. As soon as they ascertained that it was safe to be in the building, inspection of the damage began. Inside the building, water had reached a depth of 65 inches which meant it reached the bottom of the next to the top shelf in the wall cases. All the glass on the third shelf down from the top had been under water. Only a minimal number of pieces had been left on the bottom shelves. The good news was the top two shelves were dry. We were fortunate in that while there was silt, there was minimal accumulation on the floor, meaning there was no buried glass. Some items had floated off shelves and moved around the building, white others on the flooded shelves just tipped over or moved around in the cases. A goblet was found standing upright in the entranceway while a decanter lay perched precariously on the edge of a cabinet. Other pieces were found scattered around the building, deposited in a haphazard manner by the receding waters.

The first step was to remove all the glass from the floor. The next step was to retrieve any item in danger of falling off a shelf. It then became apparent that some of the shelf supports were in danger of giving way and a decision was made to empty all the cases as quickly as possible. Tables were brought into the building and the process begun. It soon became apparent that there was not room in the museum building itself, and glass was taken up the hill to the storage building. Time was of the essence and a call went out to local members to come to the museum to help in the removal process. The cleaning process began immediately with gold-decorated items, painted items, and those pieces decorated with decals first in line, as these were in the most immediate danger of harm from being under water and from the deposited wet silt.

The water reached a level much higher than expected, and a significant portion of the museum's collection of Cambridge catalogs and other documents were submerged in the flood waters. These were retrieved and placed on tables awaiting the first restoration step, freezing, which stabilizes and prevents mold and bacteria growth.

By late Thursday evening. the shelves had been emptied and most of the decorated ware washed. Since the security system was inoperable, a number of individuals took three-hour shifts in guarding the facility overnight.

Friday saw more individuals arrive to assist in the removal and cleaning process. A new alarm system was installed in the museum building and a complete system installed in the storage building. Throughout the day the washing process continued. Since storage space was limited, local individuals with glass on loan to the museum were contacted and asked to pick up their glass as soon as it was cleaned.

As the removal and cleaning process progressed, it became obvious that while some damage had occurred, it was minimal compared to what could have occurred had preparations not been taken on Sunday night. The full extent of the damage will not be known until the cleaning process is completed and all pieces checked.

A large chest freezer was purchased and the salvaged paper was placed in it Friday afternoon. Ron Hufford donated a small chest freezer and it too was filled. The work continued on Saturday and, as the week drew to a close, a large portion of the glass that had been under water had been given its initial cleaning. The process will continue until all of the museum building contents have been removed, cleaned, inventory lists checked, and ownership of each piece determined.

All people who have loaned glass to the museum will be contacted regarding disposition of their glass. Be patient if you have not already been contacted. Do not come to Cambridge to get your glass unless prior arrangements are made. For the immediate future, at least, damaged items must remain at the museum. At a future date, all owners of flood-damaged glass will be paid the fair market value of their glass at the time of the flood.

The most important thing in all this is that no lives were lost, and second, no serious injuries were incurred. National Cambridge Collectors will reopen a museum in Cambridge; the only questions being where and when. There will be much discussion about this in the coming weeks.