Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Damage at the Dickinson Museum

Imagine my surprise when I returned from a day trip on Sunday to learn from my wife that there had been something of an incident at work: the ceiling in the parlor of the Emily Dickinson Homestead had fallen in—this on a regular weekend, with tours going on. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

When I heard of a ceiling collapse, my first thought was: hunks of plaster and a cascade of dust coming down. In this case, however, the whole ceiling, still attached to its framing material, evidently came down in one piece. Pretty scary, and thus all the more fortunate that no one was hurt. On the bright side, the structure of the house was sound, and only this more recent finish layer fell down. The Museum will provide further details once it has had a chance to remove the fallen ceiling material and study the situation.

Early press coverage:

WBZ TV 38, Boston, citing the AP: "Falling Plaster Damages Emily Dickinson Artifacts":
AMHERST, Mass. (AP) ― A partial ceiling collapse at the Emily Dickinson Homestead in Amherst has damaged some historical artifacts and forced a temporary closure of the museum.

Executive Director Jane Wald says plaster from a ceiling in the parlor area fell on Sunday, damaging a teapot, sofa and set of chairs. The museum was open for tours at the time, but no one was in the room and no one was harmed.

Wald said it would be several more days until the cost of the damage is determined. She said the plaster that fell was not original to the house. The homestead will be closed to the public until Saturday for cleanup and repairs.

The 19th-century home of poet Emily Dickinson has been open to the public since 1965 when it was purchased by Amherst College.

Daily Hampshire Gazette: "Ceiling collapses at Dickinson family home"
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
AMHERST - The front parlor ceiling collapsed at the Emily Dickinson Homestead Sunday afternoon, damaging some of the museum's historic artifacts.

No one was injured in the incident, but a Dickinson family teapot, sofa and set of chairs were among the items damaged by the collapse. The homestead will be closed from Oct. 26 to Oct. 30.

Jane Wald, executive director of the museum, said in a press release that the cause of the accident is still under investigation, and that a damage estimate is forthcoming.

"The plaster from the ceiling fell into the room," Wald said in a phone interview.

The fallen plaster was not original to the home, and no beams fell from the second story floor, Wald said.

"The cleanup activity hasn't started yet. We are going to be having a structural evaluation of the spaces in the homestead. We want to have that done before we have too much activity in the house," Wald said. "Until we are able to get into the room to clean up the debris, we won't be able to assess the damage to the artifacts in the room." (read the rest)

There's an interesting difference in coverage here. The Gazette title is more dramatic. However the AP report focuses on damage to artifacts. Actually, though, both reports err if they give the impression of specific damage to collection holdings. What they are no doubt referring to is a summary of objects in the room at the time of the accident. Although one may speculate as to what was damaged or what survived, no one can tell for sure until the debris is cleared, and the Museum has not said.

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