This post is part of an ongoing series, “Time and Tide: Ten Years after Katrina.” Special thanks to Nan Prince, Museum Division, for writing this post.
Mississippi has been without a state history museum since Hurricane Katrina passed through Jackson on August 29, 2005, when high winds ripped off part of the Old Capitol Museum’s copper roof. With the roof peeled back like a banana, rainwater drenched the second and third floors of the museum’s south side, including exhibit areas and a collection storage room filled with artifacts.
MDAH staff arrived the morning of August 30 and immediately began pulling artifacts out of the wet collection storage room and exhibit areas and laid them out to dry in other areas of the museum. Approximately 3,200 affected artifacts, including a large collection of Civil War battle flags and more than 100 Choctaw baskets, were moved to dry areas of the building, and several large dehumidifiers were placed throughout the Old Capitol to lower the humidity.
During the next several weeks, staff assessed each affected artifact for damage. Approximately 250 damaged artifacts were sent to conservators. Almost $88,000 was spent on artifact conservation with financial assistance coming from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Mississippi Humanities Council, and FEMA. All 12,000 artifacts in the collection were moved out of the Old Capitol and placed in temporary storage.
In addition to the extensive water damage to plaster walls and ceilings, the Old Capitol’s oak floors and twin spiral staircases were damaged. Katrina exacerbated existing problems with the building, including rising dampness, poor foundation, cracked walls and limestone, and other structural issues.
In 2006 the Mississippi Legislature passed a $14 million bond bill for the full restoration of the Old Capitol and the design and fabrication of the exhibits. The “new” Old Capitol Museum opened in early 2009 and hosted the opening day of the Mississippi Legislature. Built in 1839, the Old Capitol building served as the seat of state government until a new capitol building was built in 1903. It then served as a state office building until it was renovated in 1961 and became the home of the state history museum for the next 45 years. Today the Old Capitol Museum interprets the history of the building and contains exhibits on government and historic preservation.
A new Museum of Mississippi History is currently under construction along with the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and will open in December of 2017 in celebration of the state’s bicentennial. After an absence of twelve years, Mississippi will again have a state history museum.