Fire Recovery: Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment

For disaster recovery workshops, we’re following the lead of emergency responders by promoting START: simple triage and rapid treatment. However, while those professionals are focusing on human victims, our participants deal only with the much less urgent and less significant needs of artifacts.

Triagetag2Upon relocating the artifacts to a safe work area (using as limited and safe handling procedures as possible), the next step in recovering artifacts from a fire is triage. For our last workshop, we modified emergency responders’ START tags for artifacts.

  • Green: Undamaged artifacts have usually been housed securely enough to protect them from soot. After careful inspection, these can be rehoused in clean containers for a return to storage with no treatment necessary.
  • Yellow: these objects require simple treatment techniques before they can be packed up for long-term storage.

Conservators recommend a strict progressive cleaning procedure that begins with vacuuming and moves to soot sponging and then to wet-cleaning, if necessary and safe for the material. These techniques enacted quickly after the fire will guarantee the highest degree of soot removal for most objects.

  1. Air dry if necessary. Find a shady place if outside or use electric fans to promote air flow inside.
  2. Vacuum: conservators recommend vacuuming in place before relocating the object, but after a fire it is more likely that the contents of a burned structure will be removed before artifact recovery can begin. Brushes should not be used in the soot vacuuming process. If a nylon screen or old panty hose is available, it can be used to cover the nozzle only and should not be pressed against the object. If not, place a thumb on the edge of the nozzle as a bumper to space it a short distance from the object.
  3. Soot sponge: remember to use a dabbing motion, rather than rubbing, which will may grind the tiny soot particles into the object.
  4. Wet cleaning:
  • Ethanol wipe/ dab for metals, also useful on glass and high-fired ceramics
  • Squirt bottle rinse with weak detergent solution (select one with low levels of dyes and perfumes such as Palmolive free and clear.)
  • Blot with damp cotton swabs or rags
  • Avoid immersion but this may be necessary as a last resort

In addition to Heritage Preservation’s brief video, click here for the best professional guidelines we’ve found so far that are specific to soot and ash.

  • Red: objects may be packed for relocation to a conservation studio right away, or they may go through the simple treatment techniques outlined above before going into this category.
  • Black: objects that seem too damaged to recover or not enough of an institutional priority to warrant conservation costs go into the “morgue”—a holding area to await the formal deaccession process before disposal.

We’re working though this START system for artifacts in workshops and so far it’s been a useful approach. We plan to train our Cultural Resources Emergency Response Team (CREST) in its use for future actual disaster recoveries and will practice it again at our next fire recovery workshop in Greensboro.


Delineating Boundaries

NCstateLineState and local identity is key to the appeal of cultural heritage institutions. The forces of globalization and mechanization seem to push communities toward standardization. Yet, for most of us, our ties to specific places remain important and historic preservation and historic sites can serve as a kind of “antidote to anywhere,” helping localities maintain their distinctiveness. Often state, regional, and local identities depend upon boundaries, whether geological, cultural, or a mixture of both. In the past few years North Carolina and South Carolina have worked jointly to re-delineate their shared boundary, using new surveying techniques, like the global positioning system. Like all resurveys, the process involves hardships as well as surprises. (You can read more about the fascinating resurvey here.) It turns out that some people living on or near the border of the Carolinas are now undergoing an identity crisis, along with logistical hassles. And, though the revised-boundary residents are not always happy about it, North Carolina has begun to welcome most of them into our state’s fold.

The blurred line between the two states has been problematic before. For instance, both states claim the 7th U.S. president, Andrew Jackson, as a native son. The resurvey reaffirmed that his family home was in North Carolina, but the Andrew Jackson Historical State Park is in SC, on the site of a relative’s house where he may have actually been born. Prohibition presented another point of controversy, since NC became a dry state in 1908–8 years before Prohibition in SC. Stores near the state line dispensing alcohol in those years had financial incentive to be on the southern side of the border. The resulting questions may well have been the impetus for the first NC-SC border re-survey completed 1928.

Before the current GPS-fueled resurvey effort, surveyors marked boundaries by geological features. They blazed trees, carved rocks, and documented existing natural features such as rivers and ridges, as well as man-made ones like the Salisbury Road or the Catawba Nation. The North Carolina Museum of History and the South Carolina State Archives house artifacts that testify to both the initial 1735 colonial survey and the early 20th-century re-survey.





The two cross sections of a longleaf pine came from the border of NC’s Columbus County near Tabor City. The brass plate affixed to the surface reads: “Section of long leaf pine exposing blaze made A.D. 1735 marking N.C.-S.C. boundry [sic] discovered in re-survey A.D. 1928 standing alive, 34.07 miles from the Atlantic ocean” (See a better photo of SC’s specimen here) According NCMOH collections files, by the time of the 1928 resurvey Tabor City area residents knew the old pine as the “state line tree,” long after the original blazes had healed over. Based on this community knowledge, Surveyors investigated the claim and cut down the dying tree, sawed it into blocks, and split the blocks until they located an old blaze within the tree. Evidence from the tree rings corresponded to the original 1735 survey. It was one of only two original landmarks found that allowed the original line to be remarked. The investigators also found evidence that the tree survived forest fires, turpentine tapping, and re-blazing by local landowners once the original marks had been obscured by new growth. Tree ring data indicated the pine originated in approximately 1570. Surveyors placed a stone marker in its place (below left).





What’s next for the NC survey work? State commissioners will look toward the other “mountain of conceit” in 2015.

Does your collection contain artifacts dealing with the boundaries of the locality it represents? If so, how do they correspond to notions of community identity?

Thanks to the Friends of the Archives for the recent presentation that inspired this post. 

Scrapbook Preservation



If scrapbooks are an important component of your collection and you’d like to learn more about their preservation, consider the NC Preservation Consortium’s workshops. An upcoming scrapbook workshop is on July 25th at Elon University and though registration is currently full, NCPC promises to schedule more on this needed topic. If you are not able to attend, online learning can offer some guidance. The American Library Association recently sponsored a free webinar on scrapbook preservation during 2014’s Preservation Week. You can access the recording here. Melissa Tedone, Conservator at Iowa State University Library, shared several helpful tips, including:

  • Staples should be removed if possible when they are showing signs of corrosion/ rust. If they have been holding other items in place on a page, a loop of linen thread can replace their function safely.
  •  To help preserve acidic papers, whether newsclippings or scrapbook pages, now crumbling, interleave with acid-free, lignin-free bond paper, such as permalife. Lace or post bindings may need to be loosened before interleaving, as the additional paper will add bulk and stress a tight binding.
  • “Magnetic” pages, popular in the 1970s, pose particular problems as a result of the material compositions of both the adhesive and the plastic film covering sheets. The plastic can be removed and replaced by interleaving with permalife sheets.
  • If  disassembling the album appears to be the best solution, thin metal spatulas can help pry photos off deteriorating adhesives. Waxed dental floss, used in a sawing motion, has also been effective for removing adhered items.

In addition to these kinds of preservation tips, NCPC workshops promise much more. Exhibition techniques, numbering methods, physical access measures, and best cataloging practices are a few of the areas workshop participants will be able to explore. Contact Executive Director, Robert James, if you would be interested in attending a future workshop on this topic.

Commemorating NC’s Independence

Hooper's house in Hillsborough, commissioned by Taylor's of Raleigh H.2008.59.9

Hooper’s house in Hillsborough, commissioned by Taylor’s of Raleigh H.2008.59.9

postcard, ECU digital collections

Hewes’ house, postcard, ECU digital collections

As residents of one of the original thirteen colonies, many North Carolinians have celebrated and commemorated the involvement of their progenitors in the push for independence from England. Community leaders in the Coastal Plain as well as the back country resolved to fight for independence from the crown unless Parliament remedied colonial grievances. Disgruntled property holders in Mecklenburg County were the first to draft such a document in May 1775, though questions about this early revolutionary activity have lingered. Local leaders in New Hanover, Cumberland, Pitt, and Tryon counties soon followed suit in the summer of 1775 and later those in Halifax drafted an even more strongly worded petition in April 1776. Our state also boasts 3 representatives to the 1776 Continental Congress in Philadelpia. Read brief biographies of the North Carolina signers here.



Since the 1890s, at least, state residents have commemorated these events and heroes of the revolutionary era by paying homage to their houses, erecting monuments, and honoring their descendants. The Hooper-Penn monument at Guilford Battleground was created in 1897 upon re-interring the remains of John Penn of Granville County and William Hooper, who died in Hillsborough. (Hewes’ grave is in Philadelphia.)



A Fayetteville parade in 1909 celebrated the Liberty Point Resolves and included a float with young women, most of whom were descendants of the signers of that document. Nearly a decade later, the newly formed NC Museum of History collected objects from one of Hooper’s daughters (right). During the 1930s (at least) the town of Edenton organized a children’s pageant honoring Hewes.



Throughout the 20th-century and into the 21st, some NC businesses have featured the signers’ names to both commemorate and capitalize on patriotic sensibilities and local pride. The John Penn motel built in Oxford, NC in 1954 evoked Mt. Vernon with its white paint and cupola. Edenton Brewing Company (now Big Boss) of Raleigh once produced a “Joseph Hewes revolutionary ale.”

Does your collection include objects commemorating the pre-revolutionary resolves or the signers of the Declaration of Independence? If so, are these commemorative objects useful for exhibits or engaging to researchers?

What Is ICS and Why Use It?

C2C Disaster Prep. Coordinator, Lyn Triplett, functions as the Incident Commander during fire recovery workshops.

C2C Disaster Prep. Coordinator, Lyn Triplett, functions as the Incident Commander during fire recovery workshops.

During hands-on practice at our fire recovery workshops, we try to implement the Incident Command System (ICS) and assign section chief and team leader roles to coordinators and participants. To explain why it’s an important structure for cultural heritage practitioners to understand, we’ve posted some excerpts below from archivist David W. Carmicheal’s great book, Implementing the Incident Command System at the Institutional Level: A Handbook for Libraries, Archives, Museums, and other Cultural Institutions.  The Connecting to Collections online community also featured this topic in a webinar last spring. Click here to view the archived version.

ICS is of particular interest to libraries, archives, and museums because any disaster can have disproportionate consequences for cultural institutions. ICS provides a standardized way to manage incidents, regardless of how large or small, even if responders approach the incident from many different jurisdictions and disciplines.

In simple terms, what ICS does is create an organization chart that supersedes the organization charts of all the responding agencies. Instead, the people who respond fill positions that don’t exist in their normal day-to-day administration; positions such as Incident Commander, or Operations Section Chief, or Liaison Officer. Each ICS position has clearly defined responsibilities, meaning that if someone who is conversant with ICS arrives at the scene of the incident and is asked to assume the role of Planning Section Chief, she—and everyone else—knows exactly what her responsibilities and authority will be. ICS has spelled them out in advance.

In addition to positions, ICS spells out facilities that will be used to respond to the incident—places like the “Incident Command Post” and “staging areas.” All the responders who have been trained in ICS arrive on the scene already knowing that the building with the symbol on it is the Incident Command Post, and they know what is going on inside that building. They already know, too, how to fill out the forms that will be used during the incident. They know how information is distributed, and they know that they should report certain information to their supervisor alone and no one else. ICS is important for those who work in cultural heritage repositories to understand because it is:

  • Standardized – Everyone learns to operate within the same structure; one that supersedes the hierarchies and plans that the responding teams bring with them. No matter what their day-to-day management structure looks like, all responders understand how assignments, resources, and information flow within the ICS, and they adopt that structure until the crisis passes. Because ICS is standardized, everyone discards acronyms and “insider” lingo for the duration of the response. Everyone needs to speak the same language. And because it is standardized, anyone can learn ICS: firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, even librarians, archivists, and museum curators.
  • Scalable – The ICS can be applied to incidents large and small, from hurricanes that carry a multi-state wallop down to a single broken pipe that floods one level of a collections storage area.
  • Used “on scene”– Management of the incident takes place as the crisis unfolds, right at the scene of the incident, or very close to it. Managers have timely information on which to base decisions. Commands don’t come from bureaucrats operating from Washington, D.C. or the state capital.
  • Multi-jurisdictional – ICS provides a single management  structure for responders from multiple jurisdictions (different fire districts, counties, or states, for instance) and, as a result, is effective at managing a response by people who report to different bosses, have different equipment, or possess different skills. This means it works when response must be coordinated across multiple departments on a college campus, for instance, or among several divisions within a museum.  In addition, it eases coordination between the staff of the affected museum and those who may respond to the incident from outside the institution, such as firefighters.
  • Applicable – It is effective for not only fires, floods or terrorism but for all hazards, natural and human caused, large or small, urban or rural.

As soon as an incident occurs and the response is initiated a command structure begins to grow, beginning with the Incident Commander and unfolding downward. The ICS has its own rigid hierarchy, and a unique feature is that ranks and responsibilities within ICS may differ markedly from familiar hierarchies. During a crisis, the day-today way of doing things must give way to special management. Not only does knowing ICS make interaction with outside responders easier, ICS also helps a cultural institution break out of its own hierarchy during times of crisis, a step that may be essential to success. ICS starts at the top, with the Incident Commander.

Implementing the Incident Command System at the Institutional Level is available for purchase or via inter-library loan from the State Library of NC. It explains how libraries, archives, and museums can adopt ICS as a temporary management structure whenever ‘business as usual’ won’t get the job done. ICS is a proven tool that helps safeguard lives, property, and priceless collections. Familiarize yourself with it for the benefit of your repository.

Building History Day Partnerships

Today is smack in the middle of the National History Day contest in Washington, DC and a great time to think about the reasons and the ways you and your site could become more involved in this event for 2015 and beyond.

an exhibit project from the 2014 state competition

an exhibit project from the 2014 state competition


  • Reaching out to students through the NHD program can help your organization engage important family, student, and teacher subgroups with its collections and other research resources.
  • A focus on the local and the personal can help the past become more meaningful for many students.
  • Student projects regularly involve detailed and poignant oral histories relating to significant issues with local connections. These student-generated primary sources could become contributions to your institutional research materials.
  • NHD is a great way to further your organization’s likely mission of promoting state,  local, or topic-focused history to the public.

One teacher’s award nomination attested, “two visits to the Western Archives and a warm welcome by Jeff Futch and Heather South” showed students “that resources reach beyond the internet and in fact, are alive in their own backyard of Western North Carolina.”

NCDCR Director of Archives & History, Kevin Cherry, motivates a student audience to participate in NHD.

NCDCR Deputy Secretary of Archives & History, Dr. Kevin Cherry, motivates a student audience to participate in NHD.


  • Contact Laura Ketcham, Outreach Coordinator for the NC Department of Cultural Resources and NHD coordinator at the state level, to gather the contact information for participating teachers in your area. Invite teachers and students for a tour of your site, while introducing them to primary sources and possible research topics relating to collections.
  • The 2015 NHD theme (to which all successful student projects must relate) is “Legacy and Leadership.”  By brainstorming connections between this theme and the resources your institution can offer beforehand, your meeting with teachers and/or students can be even more effective.
  • Contact the appropriate NHD regional coordinator and volunteer to serve as a judge for the regional contest. (If interested in serving as a judge at the state level, and traveling to Raleigh is manageable, please let Laura Ketcham know.) Judging is a great way to introduce yourself to the a range of NHD project types and quality, to familiarize yourself with the regional educators involved in this event, and to bask in the glow of youthful enthusiam for learning.

In the words of one of this year’s 8th-grade participants, NHD was a valuable experience because, “I was able to take a subject that interests me and learn about it in depth. I was able to find people in my community who had personal experience with my topic and I would never have found them or talked to them if not for NHD.”

The NHD program, with its competition and deadlines, coaxes students to delve into a topic more deeply and explore it more broadly than they would likely do otherwise at the middle and high school levels. Please consider joining them on their exciting journeys of historical discovery.


Melting Plastic

courtesy, Frankie Hayden

shelving unit, post-burn: courtesy, Frankie Hayden

PlasticComparisonLast week our C2C team conducted our 4th fire recovery workshop. The Western Carteret Fire & EMS station executed a controlled burn of the mock museum we had previously installed in their training building. Although plastic (polypropylene) storage boxes have made it through previous controlled burns just fine, this time one completely melted. In one of our earlier burn tests, plastic boxes protected the contents as well as microchamber boxes and better than regular archival boxes. However, we have always placed them at the low or mid level of shelving areas. This time we were more deliberate about a control and test for plastic placement. We staged 4 similarly sized boxes (2 cardboard and 2 plastic) with nearly identical contents. Each contained a book, a shell, a small crocheted textile, a wooden figurine, a copper vessel, a brass vessel, a slate writing board, and a record disk. BoardBoxfromTopThe fire chief on duty estimated that the fire reached a temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit, somewhat hotter than past controlled burns, which were recorded at 700 degrees. The fire destroyed both the cardboard and the plastic boxes on the top shelf, although the charred cardboard retained much of its form (see right). The plastic box melted and wound up as a glob with shimmery strings dangling down. The same box on the lower shelf came through the burn intact, with a layer of soot on the outside. [See above right for a direct comparison of the two boxes that were identical before the fire.]





What about the objects the boxes contained? Most–including wood, metal, and textiles–were covered in soot and ash but could still be salvaged with much conservation work. The plastic items inside the boxes (a record disk and a frame for a small print), however,also melted. Globs of melted plastic adhered to some of the materials, but in most cases, could be pried loose. Objects in both the cardboard and the plastic boxes were not well protected from the fire on the top shelf. In contrast, the same boxes 3 shelves below protected their contents just fine from the film of soot and ash that covered all surfaces. PlasticMelt2Are plastic boxes a bad choice for disaster mitigation? No. They do offer protection from leaks and pests and on lower levels of shelving, present little additional fire risk. On upper shelves they are more likely to melt and pose a greater risk to artifacts. However, at a heat intense enough to cause melting, all artifacts will be severely damaged, regardless of container type. Melted globs of plastic will add to a salvaged object’s conservation needs. These globs may come from other objects as well as from melted polyethylene foam that is a standard shelf liner in most museum storage areas. Above is a view of the foam liner residue, which melts into a brown lacy layer, and the melted remainder of the lid and sides of the plastic box. Upcoming posts will address additional aspects of this workshop including the Incident Command System, the simple triage system we used, and rapid treatment techniques we practiced.

Museums: Niceties or Necessities?

Earlier this spring our C2C team attended the North Carolina Museums Council’s annual conference. The session “Hot Topics: Difficult Issues for Museum Interpretation” was among the worthwhile presentations. Coordinator B.J. Davis, Education Section Chief for the NC Museum of History, and panel speaker Emlyn Koster, Executive Director of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, urged participants to think about essential ways that museums can serve their communities. Their promptings echo those of other leaders in the museum field who contend that being “nice” is not enough and that museums must try to fill a need in their communities or (perhaps less ambitiously) to become addictive for their participants. They warn that our institutions will not sustain themselves by merely satisfying the occasional desires of a relatively small portion of the public.

credit: Duke University Library collections

credit: Duke University Libraries Digital Collections

Both Davis and Koster argued that museum leaders should be proactive about positioning their institutions as a 3rd place in their communities—one that provides a regular forum for civil exchanges about controversial issues. The speakers also suggested that the topics of museum-facilitated debates can be even more powerful when they relate to the institutional mission. Would public programs and/ or special exhibits about the series of controversies involving tobacco use be a good addition to the Reynolda House’s offerings, for instance? This was one of Davis’ provocative questions. Taking a cue from the Reynolds company, how can museums package their offerings so that participation becomes addictive?

There are several ways museums can inject disparate perspectives into presentations on controversial issues. Perhaps the quickest and least expensive to implement are public programs. Possibilities include:

  • Lecture series
  • Panel discussion with oppositional viewpoints
  • Town Hall format discussion

Exhibits cost a great deal more to install but can allow both serious and casual visitors to stumble upon thought-provoking ideas across many months (or more permanently).  Examples include:

Can you think of other examples where institutions have successfully promoted civil exchanges about controversial issues? How is your institution striving to become a necessity or an addiction in its community?

Good Night and Sleep Tight: Re-Stringing a 19th-Century Bed

Many thanks to Lisa Withers, M.A. student at UNCG and Blandwood docent, for this guest post.

Artifacts in a house museum help visitors gain a better understanding of daily life for the individuals and families who once occupied the dwelling. One popular item is the rope bed found in many early American homes which helps visitor compare how Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries slept in contrast to the beds we use today.

Earlier this year, a group of museum professionals gathered at Governor Morehead’s Blandwood Mansion to re-string the rope bed located in the 1795 section of the home. Marian Inabinett and Corinne Midgett of the High Point Museum joined me and Elyse Bennett, also a UNCG museum studies student and Blandwood docent, to get the job done. While preparing, our group found a great tutorial video made by David Sextner and Jerome Bias at Hope Plantation, which helped us understand the process .

Blandwood BedTo get started, we removed the old rope from the bed frame. At the top of the bed, we pulled the length of the new rope through the length of the bed in a similar manner as pulling thread through the eye of a needle. At the head of the bed, we made a knot on the side of the frame facing the wall. We continued threading the rope in alternating directions the length of the bed.

BlandwoodBed2When the bed was re-strung lengthwise, we wrapped the rope around the corner of the bed frame to change directions and began re-stringing across the bed’s width. We interwove the rope going across the bed’s width with the rope along the length of the bedframe, alternating direction each time we went across the width of the bed. As we interweaved the rope, we gently pulled and tightened as we went along to keep the appropriate tension on the rope and frame. When we reached the end of the bed, we made another knot on the bedframe’s exterior. We then checked the tension of the rope to ensure it was tight enough to keep the bed frame in place and to provide extra stability. When we finished re-stringing the bed, we covered the ropes with an interwoven oak pallet, a tick pallet, a pillow, and a coverlet. From our experience, we found it was beneficial to have a four-person team with two individuals to hold frame stable and two to restring the bed. For a 6 ft. 3 in. by 4 ft. 3 in. bed, we used approximately 100 ft. of 3/8 inch twisted manila rope.

L to R: Elyse Bennett, Lisa Withers, Marian Inabinett, and Corinne Midgett

L to R: Elyse Bennett, Lisa Withers, Marian Inabinett, and Corinne Midgett

From the procedure of re-stringing a rope bed, it is easy to see how the origins of the phrase “sleep tight” became a popular myth. However, the phrase is rather modern, as the Oxford English Dictionary lists its first use in 1933. While there are a few earlier written accounts using the term, there is not sufficient evidence to suggest the phrase came from the practice of stringing a rope bed.

Photos courtesy Benjamin Briggs, Executive Director of Preservation Greensboro, Inc.

Leaving a Mark

In honor of May as Preservation Month, this post is about a preservation issue inside a building that is iconic for all of North Carolina as well as its capital city.  Since its completion in 1840 many visitors to the Old State Capitol Building in Raleigh have left their marks. The large hand-cut stone blocks bear the chisel indentations of various stone cutters; the worn stone steps attest to many footfalls and heavy loads dragged upwards; and wooden banisters in the house and senate chambers boast carvings of names/ initials and dates. Is it a sense of the structure’s significance that has compelled some of those passing through to carve their names into the wood? These marks of creation, use, and commemoration (however subversive) are visible to all who visit the Old Sate Capitol for one of its free tours.


stairway to storage

stairway to storage

Recently I took advantage of an opportunity for NC Department of Cultural Resources staff to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the building. We snuck peeks at staff offices, attic storage areas, and views near the rotunda. The marks individuals had left behind continued, and perhaps became even more pronounced, as we climbed and pressed our way into non-public areas. This wall (left) near a roof access door exhibits over a hundred years’ worth of visitors proclaiming “I was here!” Earlier marks from the 1900s or so have been carved into the wood, whereas modern graffiti artists chose markers to commemorate their visits.

fingerprintselectricianGraffitiAdditionally, several of the more hidden corridors bear the marks of hands which have accomplished the difficult and often dangerous work of building maintenance duties. These marks on the right are from electricians who have squeezed into tight spaces and balanced themselves on ledges to change light bulbs around the senate chamber rotunda.

When do preservationists view marks like fingerprints and graffiti as defacement in need of correction and when do we view them as interesting testaments to a building’s (or object’s) use and significance? This is a question object conservators must ask themselves before each treatment, and sometimes the answer is different. Cleaning is irreversible and permanently strips away evidence of human interaction with the material. The Old State Capital staff has taken two different approaches to this quandary. For some of the wooden railings bearing carved letters and numbers from visitors (dating from the building’s period of use, 1840-1963), the marks remain. For others, staff has in-filled the carvings and painted over the rails.

Which approach (or combination) has your site taken?

–Adrienne Berney, C2C Collections Care Trainer


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