Saving Priceless Family Photos From Hurricane Harvey Floodwaters
I have a stash of early family photographs. And a relative has sent me more much to our mutual delight. Photographs keep our history alive like nothing else on earth. So I thought you all might enjoy a bittersweet story of a family, a flood and the memories of generations captured on silvered paper.
On Saturday morning, Sept. 2, we were busy mucking out one of the back bedrooms in my grandmother’s house when my brother and mother discovered a wooden suitcase at the bottom of a closet. Inside, we discovered a large cache of photographs and negatives, the oldest of which were dated from the early 1920s. They had belonged to my great-grandfather.
The items had sat, submerged, in floodwater for at least a day, plus however long it took for their eventual discovery. By the time we got to them, the contents were well on their way toward becoming a solid block of pulpy slime.
Initially, we tried to peel some of the prints apart and laid them out on folding tables in the yard, weighted down with small stones to keep the wind from blowing them away.
Jeanne Samuels inspects old family photos, which suffering flood damage during Hurricane Harvey, laid out to dry in her yard in Southwest Houston.
I called my sister in Kansas City, who works in the museum world, and my brother-in-law, a skilled darkroom photographer, to ask for further advice. They quickly searched online and found that by re-submerging both the prints and the negatives, we might be able to mitigate some damage and possibly even save portions of the mass.
Grabbing every available bin and tray we could find inside the house, half-a-dozen volunteers, including another photographer friend of mine who rushed over after I called her, dumped the entire lot into a bath soapy water, followed by a clean-water rinse.