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A Picture Is Worth a 1,000 Documents

Posted on April 1, 2019, by Eleanor Craig SL

Last June the Archivists at the Loretto Heritage Center noticed buckling in the hardwood floor beneath the racks of documents. At least one sensitive nose also smelled musty, moldy smells. Investigation in the dark crawl space beneath the building revealed nothing unusual.

The summer rains came and the typical Kentucky humidity. The buckling and the moldy smells increased. By August, the floorboards began to push up, forming peaks 2-, 3- and 4-inches high. More investigation, and a call to the insurance company revealed no water source, yet the underside of the floorboards was covered in sweat.

Finally, a mold inspector was called in. Samples from the crawl space revealed both mold and wet from one end of the building to the other. The entire underside of the Heritage Center floor, all 1,500 square feet, was covered with white penicillin interspersed with mushrooms!

An emergency call to the Dominican sisters at St. Catharine Motherhouse down the road found a dry and welcoming storage space for all our archival documents. We hired a company to wrap the boxes in plastic wrap and carry them out of danger.

Once the papers were safe, we turned to the task of remediation: The flooring in the document storage area was removed entirely, exposing the building joists. The underside of the museum floorboards and all the building joists were scrubbed by hand, then painted with a white anti-microbial substance to retard future mold.

The earth that had laid exposed beneath the building since 1886 was covered with thick plastic. The underfloor was covered with insulation. Finally, fans were installed in each of the crawl space vents and sensors hung to monitor the humidity.

With the remediation complete, new hardwood flooring could be laid. A rich red oak was chosen to blend with the flooring in the museum.

The rails for the movable shelving were relocated to a more convenient corner and built into the flooring for greater safety. Fresh paint on the walls and the room was ready for its shelves and documents.

Finally, in late February the document boxes could be retrieved from St. Catharine’s and placed on their shelves by the archival staff (including Marcia Mohin, at right), who admit to being tired, but relieved.


Eleanor Craig SL

Eleanor has been a Sister of Loretto since 1963 and an educator since birth. She graduated from two of Loretto's best known St. Louis institutions, Nerinx Hall High School in 1960, and Webster University in 1967. She taught mathematics at Loretto in Kansas City, where her personal passion for adventure history inspired her to develop and lead treks along the historic Oregon Trail. From 1998 to 2010 she created an award-winning program of outdoor adventure along the Western trails for teens who are visually impaired. Eleanor claims to have conducted more wagon trains to the West than the Mountain Men! From 2012 to 2021, Eleanor led a talented staff of archivists and preservationists at the Loretto Heritage Center on the grounds of the Motherhouse. Now retired, she still serves in the Heritage Center as Loretto Community Historian.
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