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Disaster Hits American Heritage

April 2024
2min read

Hurricane Ida flooded our offices and caused enormous damage.

The muddy water floated books around and left them in a soggy mess. Many were critical for research, reviews, or excerpting.
The muddy water floated books from our shelves and left them in a soggy mess around the office. Many of the books were needed for editorial research, reviews, or consideration for excerpts.

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 flood water that ruined a 1738 print of King Henry VIII left a high water line on the glass that once protected it. 
The flood waters damaged or destroyed a 1738 print of King Henry VIII, a 1590 engraving of Drake's Landing in California by Theodore de Bry, and a 120 year-old photographic portrait of Alexander Graham Bell, among other treasures.

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.

The swirling water floated books and magazines and left them in a soggy pile.
The swirling water floated books and magazines around the office and left them in soggy piles.

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:

Our entire set of the hard-to-find first six years of American Heritage was destroyed. Hundreds of later issues were also ruined.
Our entire collection of the hard-to-find first six years of American Heritage (1949-1954) was destroyed. Hundreds of later issues were also ruined.

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.


We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.