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EDITOR'S LETTER

Recovery Efforts at American Heritage

January 2022
1min read

It was a challenging couple of months after the flood, but our offices will soon be operational again.

An early two-volume set of Washington Irving's works was one of many lost treasures.
An early two-volume set of Washington Irving's works was one of many treasures lost.

September was the cruelest month. The muddy water that filled our offices nearly dealt a fatal blow to American Heritage. As we reported in the last issue, we lost hundreds of books, magazines, research files, prints and photographs, furniture, equipment, legal and accounting records, etc.

John Kelly described the disaster well in his article in the Washington Post, “Historic rains turned the archives of American Heritage into a sodden mess.” 

But after three months of work, and thanks to support from our members, we return to our offices on December 1. We're still missing doors and moldings, and have flooring in only one office, but we are now able to focus more on creating new editorial content.

Unfortunately, many of the rare books could not be saved. The flood occurred just before Labor Day weekend, and by the time we got expert advice on conservation most of the books were beyond saving.

Unfortunately, few of the rare books could be saved.

Among the difficult things to replace will be our collection of the rare first six years of American Heritage published by the American Association for State and Local History from 1949 to 1954.

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

 

Presidential historian Mike Purdy sent us dozens of issues of American Heritage to replace ones we lost, and Prof. Robert Friedel boxed up his nearly complete set of Invention & Technology for us. Other members kindly made similar offers.

A nearly 300-year-old engraving of Henry VIII turned brown after immersion in the muddy water.

A nearly 300-year-old engraving of Henry VIII turned brown after its swim in the muddy water.

The papers in file cabinets swelled so much after being under water that we could no longer open the drawers, and had to destroy the metal cabinets to get to the papers. Important documents were dried and scanned.

The papers in six file cabinets swelled up so much after being under water that we couldn't open the drawers. We had to destroy the metal cabinets to get to the papers.

After trying to salvage important files and books, we cut up the muddy carpets and sent them to the dump.

After trying to salvage important files and books, we cut up the muddy carpets and sent them to the dump.

Everyone working in the offices had to wear protective face masks as black mold quickly grew along the walls.

Black mold quickly spread along the walls and needed to be mitigated.

All the walls that were soaked in the flood needed to be removed, and the mold behind them sprayed and dried.

All the walls that had been soaked in the flood needed to be removed, and the mold behind them sprayed and dried.

The fiberglass insulation behind the walls was still dripping wet six weeks after the flood.

The fiberglass insulation behind the walls was still dripping wet six weeks after the flood.

Removing the drywall behind bookshelves caused them to sag and eventually collapse. 

Removing the drywall behind bookshelves caused them to sag and eventually collapse. 

But by late November, walls and bookshelves were repaired and then painted, and water-proof tiles installed in one office.

But by late November, walls and bookshelves were repaired and then painted, and water-proof tiles installed in one office.

We take solace in knowing our efforts are keeping American Heritage alive and growing, and providing access to the writing of 1,800 historians for the millions of readers that visit our website each year.

Again, thanks to everyone who helped us out. We were inspired that so many of you cared about continuing the American Heritage tradition, and chipped in to help restore our offices.

Despite the chaos of recent weeks, we have published some wonderful articles in this new issue that I think you'll find worth reading.

And many more are coming in 2022!

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

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