Hurricane Ida flooded our offices and caused enormous damage.
On September 1, Hurricane Ida dealt American Heritage a near fatal blow, flooding our offices and library with two feet of muddy water.
We lost hundreds of books, magazines, research files, antique prints and photographs, furniture, equipment, carpets, accounting records, bank statements, legal documents, etc.
If you haven't done so already, please consider a donation to help us pay for professional help, buy new furniture and equipment, and replace important books and magazines. And we must mitigate the fast-growing mold that has made our offices unusable.
The irony was not lost on us. For 72 years, American Heritage has reported on disasters, from David McCullough on the Johnstown Flood (written when he was an editor on our staff) to our recent article on how hurricanes in 1780 may have helped Americans win the Revolution by sinking or severely damaging 24 British ships just before the battle of Yorktown.
Now it was our turn for a crisis. While we were out of town, a 3 1/2 foot high wall of muddy water suddenly slammed against our office door — an unprecedented flood caused by overwhelmed storm sewers. No one would expect a hurricane to flood a building at an elevation of 347 feet and well above the nearest stream.
A couple of blocks away a man was drowned trying to help his mother, and 150 people left homeless when their apartments flooded to the ceiling.
In the days since, we have tried to save whatever we could, wrestling with the agony of so many things desperate for attention. And now black mold grows at the base of walls, and water-swollen bookshelves and cabinets split apart.
WTOP News provides more reporting in "Rockville man's historical collection destroyed in recent flooding"
One night, before collapsing in exhaustion, we took odd comfort in revisiting some of the stories of disaster American Heritage has published over the decades. They remind us that things could always be worse.
Here are a few of the many we've published over the years:
- The Day They Burned The Capitol, by Willis Thornton. December 1954.
- The Smart Ones Got Through, by George R. Stewart. June 1955. (About the Donner Party trapped in the Sierra Nevada.)
- Death On The Dark River, by Cedric A. Larson. October 1955.
- Maiden Voyage, by Walter Lord. December 1955. (This essay about the “unsinkable” Titanic was expanded to a bestselling book, and a classic movie).
- Death of a Dirigible, by John Toland. February 1959.
- The Flames of Hell Gate, by William Peirce. October/November 1979.
- Katmai, by James C. Simmons. October/November 1980.
- The Tempest, by Avery Kolb. April/May 1983.
- Essex Disaster, by Walter Karp, April/May 1983.
- The Ultimate Storm, Bruce Catton. October/November 1984.
- Blizzard, by E. N. Coons. February 1988.
- Our 10 Greatest Natural Disasters, by Christine Gibson. August/September 2006.
- Disaster at a Distant Moon (Apollo 13), by Tom Jones, Fall 2008.
- The O'Learys and the Great Chicago Fire, by Carl Smith. November 2020.
We take solace in knowing our efforts are keeping alive public access to the writing of 1,800 historians on our website, telling stories like the ones of these tragic events — and the memory of the people who suffered in them — for the millions of readers that visit our site each year.