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Museums Keep History Alive — Even In The Times Of Coronavirus

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Like so many of us, museum staff and archivists were caught off guard when pandemic lockdowns began.

EMMA STRATTON: Nowhere in our disaster planning did we have a provision for a pandemic.

GREENE: That is Emma Stratton, executive director of the American Independence Museum in Exeter, N.H. The museum houses original documents from the revolutionary era.

STRATTON: The real gem, cornerstone of our collection is an original printing of the Declaration of Independence. We have two working drafts of the U.S. Constitution. And then we also have some letters from George Washington as well.

GREENE: And, of course, all those old documents need care.

STRATTON: We have an additional challenge of having these rare and historic documents in 18th century buildings that do not have a central climate control system.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So Stratton and her staff come in twice a week to walk through the buildings.

STRATTON: I am starting today in my walkthrough at the Ladd-Gilman House. And we are going into the Gookin room, which is where we typically start our tours. And then it's part of the oldest section of the house. And you're going to hear all the creaks and groans of this old building here.

MARTIN: She's making sure the light, temperature and humidity are all in the right range to keep documents well-preserved.

STRATTON: Now, being in the treat room, this is where our drafts of the Constitution are. And again, we've got a dehumidifier running in this space as well. So that also seems to be working.

GREENE: But all of this maintenance costs money.

STRATTON: So I would say that's probably, for us, around 40,000 a year. And, of course, you know, those costs for building and collections care are static. Just because we're closed doesn't mean we stop caring for our collections and for our objects.

GREENE: Stratton says the museums work is to keep this history alive, pandemic or not.

STRATTON: We have a lot to do, not only in insuring these collections and buildings are here for years to come, but also that we're still able to tell the stories.

MARTIN: For now, Emma Stratton and her staff will just keep checking in on things. And they'll keep looking forward to the day they can reopen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.