by John Larson, Director, Polson Museum in Hoquiam, WA
A museum staff’s worst nightmare became reality the morning of June 9, 2018 when fire gutted Aberdeen’s historic 1922 armory destroying much of the Aberdeen Museum of History in Aberdeen, WA. The sizeable structure also housed the Coastal Community Action Program, Aberdeen Senior Center and Grays Harbor Genealogical Society whose offices and records were also reduced to ashes.
Though an investigation is still ongoing, it is clear that a fire internal to the building had hours of burn time before the first calls from neighbors came in almost simultaneously with an alarm from the Senior Center side of the building at around 9:30 a.m. It appears that other than in the Senior Center, the rest of the building did not have an actively monitored fire alarm system in place. By the time the first of five area departments arrived with multiple ladder trucks, crews were forced to take a defensive approach as much of the building was already engulfed in flames.
The museum’s staff and board members are now exploring their next steps to rebuild and have temporarily been given space to operate in the former Goldberg Furniture Company store in downtown Aberdeen. The Grays Harbor Community Foundation took immediate fiscal action with a $10,000 grant to kick-start the museum’s recovery. The response to assist from museum professionals from across the state has been robust and the Washington Museum Association has devoted some proceeds from the conference auction and t-shirt sales to support Aberdeen.
At this point, it is too early to know how we in the professional museum community can assist, but it is likely Aberdeen can use a Registrars to the Rescue type approach when the time comes to organize what collections they have salvaged and what new collections come pouring in from the community. Aberdeen has already created “Rising from the Ashes” buttons and t-shirts to help support their recovery.
Special thanks is due Steve Excell and his team with the Washington Secretary of State’s office who appeared on the scene to recover, remove and restore water damaged photographs and documents. A high percentage of these collections were saved along with some office records and assorted other objects from the museum’s permanent exhibits – of special note is the showpiece 1927 Ahrens Fox fire truck that was towed away a blackened mess only to be started and driven the next day!
Photos by John Larson