Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dickinson Break-in Update: Finally, the Facts

Press stories at last confirm what early clues suggested: that the break-in at the Dickinson Museum early this month was a random act of antisocial behavior.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported Saturday that the man who broke into the Museum was the same one who attempted a break-in at a private residence a short time later:
A University of Massachusetts student faces criminal charges for allegedly causing $600 in damage at the Emily Dickinson Museum after attempting to force his way into the building in the early morning hours of Sept. 5. Police say he was very drunk at the time.
[ . . . . ]
The man first smashed a window and door at the museum in an unsuccessful attempt to get inside, and in the process lacerated his right hand and bled extensively. A bookcase inside the museum was tipped over when he reached inside to unlock the door. Police said the cost of cleaning up the broken glass and the blood was $600.
(Full story: Scott Merzbach, "Man to face charges for museum damage")

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dickinson Break-in Update

No news, actually.

The Amherst Police Arrest and Call Log records the initiation of a breaking-and-entering incident at the Museum as of 8:30 a.m. on Friday, 3 September (incident # 08-545-OF), and today's Amherst Bulletin notes same in its famous police blotter. However, no details are available, and no reports seem to have appeared yet in the traditional media.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Breaking News: attempted break-in at Dickinson Museum

There was an attempted break-in Friday morning at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, specifically, the 1813 Dickinson Homestead in which the poet spent most of her life.

Partial and unofficial information suggests that this was a case of disorderly and antisocial behavior (one might speculate about alcohol or drug abuse) rather than any sort of attack on the museum, as such.

The publication of Brock Clarke's provocatively titled and darkly comedic novel, Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England(2007)--which begins with the narrator's confession, "I, Sam Pulsifer, am the man who accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst, Massachusetts"--of course set preservationists everywhere on edge, though he was welcomed to the Valley as part of his book tour last year.

Fortunately the Dickinson Museum is adequately protected and well monitored, but the incident underscores the need for vigilance. Many other small museums and historic structures, whether due to meagre resources or for other reasons, lack proper security measures against both human mischief and natural disaster. Installation of such systems even in the best of cases poses stiff aesthetic and technical challenges. And of course, large-scale natural disasters can overwhelm even the best security measures. Preservationists breathed a sigh of relief when Hurricane Gustav failed to develop into the catastrophe that was Katrina. They are still struggling, not without controversy, to save what can be saved from the destruction of three years ago.

The near misses this past week in both New Orleans and Amherst remind us just how fragile and precious our historic resources are. That they have survived this long is due in no small measure to good luck, but we cannot rely on good luck alone to protect them in the future.