By IRENE BENDER
A month has passed since the fire at the Humphrey Museum. The initial call and the days that followed were times many of us cannot forget. The shock and pain of seeing a fire at the museum were evident in the faces of the many who came to offer assistance.
By early morning media from all the metro newspapers, tv, and radio stations were in Waverly. A photographer from the Associated Press and a tv reporter had both done features on the museum the week before. Now a week later, they were back in Waverly covering a different story. Even they looked touched as they walked between the rows of the collection that was being laid out on the floor of the Village Hall.
Most people see museum collections arranged in an exhibit. Great care would have been taken to plan, prepare, and used the artifact to tell a story. Now the collection of the Humphrey Museum in Waverly was wet, had smoke damage, and was quickly put on absorbent paper to dry. Yet the collection told a story. Photographers quickly saw the campaign poster with the photo of Humphrey and the words: "Some talk change. Others cause it."
The board quickly met and decided they would continue its mission. Each member assumed an area of responsibility and directed the recovery effort.
Helen Alten, a volunteer conservator, recently sent a report in which she stated, "I was impressed with how well you and your community responded to the emergency. It was one of the best recovery scenes I have seen . . . and I have seen more than my fair share."
A conservation team from the Minnesota State Historical Society came Aug. 25. Volunteers of all ages helped. Some stayed for the whole week. Colleagues came from neighboring museums. It was a labor of love. Several young people, who had helped at the museum, came every day and worked hard.
My home answering machine was full of messages. There was even one from a friend in Sweden. They spoke of the passion for the project. They wanted to help.
Letters began to arrive. "You must be heartbroken. But we know that you will not lose hope. Just as Hubert overcame many obstacles in his life and career, so too will the museum rise (literally) from the ashes to see a better day."
Another person wrote: "What's a museum do? Teach and pass on values. Your story has taken an unexpected turn, but you still have your values and you're still teaching."
Newspapers, buttons, campaign literature arrived from people with notes. Some called with their stories to share. They will be in our forthcoming newsletters. An 80-year-old woman who had spent her early childhood in Waverly sent a donation saying those years were very dear to her.
Others were "sifting through our late aunt's belongings and found this paper. We thought it might replace items lost in the fire." Someone sent a photo of Hubert and Muriel Humphrey with Bob Hope that he found at a garage sale for a dollar. Another saw a campaign piece in an antique store and bought it as her donation.
At the end of two weeks, the collection was dry and packed. After the young people swept the huge floor that had once been covered with the collection, they did gymnastics routines to loud music. It was a wonderful feeling to see the energy and hope in these dedicated young people.
It is somewhat surprising that so many people have saved the newspapers from Humphrey's death, which will be 20 years ago, in 1998. Those people are now finding a place for them at the museum with the knowledge that they will replace some of the collection that was damaged. I must bring mine in, too.
Irene Bender is the director for the Hubert
H. Humphrey Museum.