Red flames, silver linings

Mimi Leveque and Eric Wolin

Abstract

On August 15, 2009, an accidental fire broke out at the Ropes Mansion, a historic property owned and operated by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The fire forced museum staff to confront an emergency requiring a decisive response to safeguard a unique structure and its associated collection. The fire challenged the Peabody Essex Museum’s notion of disaster preparedness and subjected local first responders and, later, museum responders to a harrowing experience. Key communication infrastructures in place on the day of the fire and networks of relationships forged well before the fire helped mitigate the impact of the fire. This article will discuss the immediate response to the fire, the recovery program developed to treat the damaged art objects, and the reinterpretation and installation of conserved objects into a rehabilitated Ropes Mansion.

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