Friday, May 6, 2011

Hurricanes and Insects

We have a 1938 pamphlet from Bell Telephone with amazing pictures of the 1938 hurricane that devastatingly swept across Long Island.  At that time, my grandfather lived in Riverhead and worked for the phone company.  He always remembered braving the hurricane to bring my mother home from the nearby grade school.  Meanwhile, fifteen miles away in Southampton, my other grandfather was watching slates blow off the roof of the grade school as he ran inside to tell the teachers to keep the children inside.  As he left, one of the teachers loaned him a hard hat to protect his head.

The pictures in this glossy pamphlet vividly depict the hurricane’s aftermath.  Massive trees are down, homes destroyed, and streets flooded.  Some of the pictures appear to have been taken immediately after the storm’s passing in that strange calm that always follows a hurricane.  Others show the phone company staff hard at work repairing the extensive damage.  My grandfather is one of the workers pictured on page four.

Rebecca Smyrl with the pamphlet.
But it isn’t the scenes of mass destruction that catch the eye of Rebecca Smyrl, Conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.  “That looks like insect damage,” she says, pointing to a small network of losses near the tail spine corner.  She reassures me that it looks like old damage with no indications of recent activity.  I suggest that we could store it in plastic to protect it from future pests, but Rebecca says no.  She’d rather have the paper free to breathe in a paper box storage rather than sealed in plastic.

Insect damage along edges
of another pamphlet.
It’s often assumed that disaster planning at museums will be focused on the big disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods.  But it’s often the little things, like pest infestations, that can devastate a collection.  The pamphlet has survived in fairly good shape, yet it serves as a good reminder of the destructiveness of the natural world, from the microscopic damage of insects to the macroscopic power of a hurricane.

Special thanks to Rebecca Smyrl for her consultations during the past two weeks!

© 2011 Lee Price

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