Tornado soaks stored artifacts of Smithsonian

November 25, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

SUITLAND -- Thousands of artifacts housed at a Smithsonian Institution storage facility here were waterlogged and possibly ruined by a small tornado that struck the complex early Monday morning.

Historical furniture, insect collections, canoes, totem poles and sculptures were among items Smithsonian officials identified as damaged by the storm, which struck eight of 27 buildings at the suburban Washington site, two of them severely.

Officials said it would take several months to determine the cost of restoring the items. Cleanup and repair of the damaged buildings would cost about $2 million, they said.

"None of our collections or our buildings are insured," said Madeleine Jacobs, a Smithsonian spokeswoman. "We must come up with the money for repairs."

Items from the National Museum of Natural History and from the National Museum of American History, housed in two buildings, bore the brunt of the damage.

The building which housed collections from the Museum of Natural History contained the insect collections, totem poles and other artifacts. In addition, approximately 25 sculptures from the National Museum of American Art were being stored in the facility.

Access to the building had been restricted pending the removal of asbestos that was in the roof. When the building's roof was blown off Monday, asbestos was scattered over the immediate area.

An adjacent building, which houses materials from the Museum of American History, lost half of one side wall.

The building contained political history furniture and the Zim Collection, which consists of thousands of pieces of World's Fair memorabilia. Patrick Ladden, who manages the facility, said all the pieces in that area had been moved there within the past five years.

Mr. Ladden said that the furniture and other damaged pieces had been taken to the American History museum in Washington.

Among those pieces was one of the desks used at Appomattox, Va. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces during the Civil War, surrendered to Union commander Gen. Ulysses Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865. Water also damaged, but did not ruin, the sign that hung outside the Republican Party Headquarters during President Benjamin Harrison's administration in the early 1890s.

The Smithsonian has been using the Maryland storage complex since 1958. The buildings are metal huts given to the museum by the General Services Administration in the mid-50s.

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