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Tag: conservation

Ten years after a call for help, Iraqi Jewish documents go on display

In June of 2003, the National Archives Preservation Programs received a call for help from Iraq. Sixteen American soldiers had found tens of thousands of documents and 2,700 Jewish books while searching in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters. The historic material was soaking wet.

And so Doris Hamburg and Mary-Lynn Ritzenthaler boarded a C-130 cargo plane and flew to Iraq.

“It was fascinating and exciting,” said Hamburg, Director of Preservation Programs at the National Archives. “We didn’t know quite what we were heading toward—but we were told everything would be fine.”

After Hamburg and Ritzenthaler arrived in Baghdad, they went to a warehouse on the banks of the Tigris River. Inside the warehouse was a freezer truck, and inside that truck were 27 metal trunks.

The trunks held masses of documents and books that had been submerged in four feet of water in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. And although the contents had been frozen to preserve them, Hamburg and Ritzenthaler could smell mold when they climbed into the truck.

“Freezing is a common way to stabilize materials when they become wet,” said Ritzenthaler, Chief of the Document Conservation Laboratory. “They acquired a freezer truck—it was quite a feat in those days in Baghdad to find a truck and to keep it fueled.”

The two women began … [ Read all ]

Furloughed Fed volunteers at local historical society

When the National Archives closed its doors on October 1 due to the government shutdown, staff did not know when they would return to work. So Meris Westberg took her skills to the Historical Society of Washington, DC (HSW).

When Westberg joined HSW a few months ago, she had talked to the collections manager, Anne McDonough, about volunteering there. But the hours were similar to her work hours at the National Archives, where Westberg works on books and manuscripts in Hebrew and Arabic from the Iraqi Jewish Archives, so it didn’t seem likely she would be able to give many volunteer hours—until the furlough allowed her the time.

Westberg is a conservation technician, and so with the permission of HSW staff, she developed some short-term preservation projects that would benefit their staff and researchers. She created a Google spreadsheet of over 100 city directories from 1820 to 1900. These books were the “Yellow Pages” of their time, according to Westberg, and they are popular with researches.

The directories were in varying conditions: some were rebound and in good shape, others were falling apart. Westberg examined and noted the condition of each on her spreadsheet and did some light conservation work, including bracing the volumes with twill tape, surface cleaning, and interleaving acid-free paper behind iron-gall ink signatures. She also recommended the care that each volume needed … [ Read all ]

After the fire: Peter Waters helps save water-damaged records

Today’s post comes from Sara Holmes, supervisory preservation specialist at the National Archives in St. Louis.

Just before 9 a.m. on the morning of July 16, 1973, the fire that had raged over five days was declared out. The firemen’s command post was taken down; engines cleared the scene; and 9700 Page Avenue—home of the Military Personal Records Center (MPR)—was returned to Federal control. Recovery work began, and consultants from the private and public sectors were called to St. Louis under the oversight of the General Services Administration.

Many problems were obvious from the start: there was no electricity; broken water lines continued to flood the building; staff had been placed on leave and needed a place to return to work; records requests still needed to be answered; the sixth floor appeared to be little more than rubble and ashes; and the millions of records in the lower floors of the building were still at risk for damage. It would take an additional week for staff to return to work in makeshift quarters and a contract to be awarded to demolish the sixth floor.

With water still pooling on every floor, concerns grew that the records on the lower floors would soon bloom with mold in the hot St. Louis summer. A thymol solution was sprayed throughout the building as a preventative fungicide. (Although thymol … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: Conservation and Re-encasement

 

In light of the upcoming 225th Constitution Day on September 17, I spoke with Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler and Catherine Nicholson, two of the very few people who have touched the Constitution in the last century, about how they approached the task of conserving the Charters of Freedom.[ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Hang ten, Pat Nixon!

Some time ago, a Facebook fan expressed thanks that we would never combine our First Ladies Friday with our Facial Hair Friday. To which we replied, never say never! Of course, the facial hair in this photograph is not on First Lady Pat Nixon, but that scraggly surfer goatee is in very close proximity to Pat, so we are going to count it as a two-for-one.

The First Lady had just finished a land-grant ceremony at Border Field, CA, to create a new park area at the U.S.-Mexico border for the Legacy of the Parks Program. Border Field State Park is 15 miles south of San Diego, CA. When the U.S.-Mexico War ended in 1848, delegations from both countries began surveying the boundary at this location in 1850. Border Monument number 258 can be seen from inside the park, but it no longer can be reached because there are border fences on both sides. When the First Lady was there, there was only barbed wire, and she was able to reach out and greet the Mexican citizens who had gathered on the other side.

The park is in the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. Threatened and endangered birds like the Western Snowy Plover and the Light-footed Clapper Rail now live in the salt marshes and sand dunes. (Surfers and picnickers can also enjoy the park’s facilities!)

The Legacy … [ Read all ]