Last Saturday, the still-swollen Buffalo Bayou spat out an anonymous photo album into a nearby backyard where somebody retrieved it. The book was filled with wedding shots and baby photos from the '90s, but there was no obvious contact information. So, in perhaps the greatest case for social media yet, the finders shot off a Facebook post about the book, asking folks to share and share and share until somebody recognized the people in the photos. It actually got back to the rightful owners; Kevin Bacon would be proud.
But once it was returned, the album shared the fate of pretty much everything else in Houston—it's soaked. Wet things disintegrate, and, eventually, get moldy.
Renee Tallent, manager of Historic Collections at the Galveston Historical Foundation, wanted to share information on how to preserve irreplaceables like family photos and rare books via their sizable social media presence, but the options weren't great. So she created her own shortened, to-the-point version on DIY heirloom recovery. Five videos all clocking in at under four minutes give the most important information on how to save photos, books, furniture and textiles. "When you’re worried 'bout feeding your kids or taking out drywall, you don’t have time or patience to watch 20-minute videos directed at a museum professional," she says.
The overriding concern is to get everything dry and clean. You want to rinse off you objects and remove any loose debris—but stay away from harsh products such as bleach. After that, you want to blot away any excess moisture and keep air circulating with something like a fan. It's a tedious process that Tallent says might be a thoughtful way for those spared the worst of Harvey to help out friends and family; they call the insurance company, you dab the wedding album. "This needs time, this needs space," she says. "If your house is submerged, it’s really helpful if your friends can help you out with this."
Of course, you shouldn't expect professional results from a roll of paper towels. Things already moldy or severely damaged will need the pricey expertise of a professional conservator. But with a little effort, many things can be salvaged at home, albeit not to their original, pristine condition. Then again, a few wrinkled pages or warped photographs may even add a layer of charm to your valuables, Tallent says.
"Our objects have a history and a life, like the rest of us," she says. "Your object is just a survivor of Hurricane Harvey now."