While the full impact of the tragic events following Hurricane Katrina will not be fully understood for some time, historians and curators at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History have begun collecting artifacts and photographs to preserve the impact of the disaster and its aftermath on the nation. The museum is working to build a focused collection of objects and photographs that reflects specific aspects of the hurricane’s impact along the Gulf Coast, the rescue of survivors and the recovery of local communities. In addition to the more than 20 objects collected and more than 900 photographs taken by museum staff during the week of Sept. 26-30, the museum is still seeking tools used to escape from homes (such as sledgehammers and axes); homemade floatation devices and hand-lettered signs calling for help and rescue. A second collecting trip to the Gulf Coast region, including New Orleans, is planned for early December. “As the only national history museum, the museum recognizes its responsibility to collect, preserve and document this episode in the country’s history,” said Brent D. Glass, museum director. “Just as the National Museum of American History became the official repository of artifacts related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, collecting from Hurricane Katrina continues to fulfill the museum’s national mission and is our first concerted effort at documenting a natural catastrophe.” Working through local officials, associate curator David Shayt and museum photographer Hugh Talman spent five days in the Gulf region and brought back a variety of objects including:
- A cot and a New Orleans Hornets basketball banner from the Superdome
- A pair of handmade, lace valances from the 7th Ward home of the Bryan Williams family that show the high water mark in the house
- A sign reading “Have We Been Forgotten” from Houma, La.
- A kitchen clock, stopped at 9:25, found in a field in Waveland, Miss.
- Shrimping gear from a Vietnamese-American shrimper in Biloxi, Miss.
- A leather halter from a rescued horse in Gonzales, La.