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Jim Ross: Social media’s good side aids fire recovery

July 9, 2018

Social media can be criticized - rightly so - as a means for sowing division among friends and strangers over politics, sports and other forms of mass entertainment.

But as people at the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center discovered, social media is also a means of finding help in time of need.

An attic fire at the museum on July 1 forced the evacuation of hundreds of books, photos, paintings, steamboat models, riverboat memorabilia and other items housed there. Almost as soon as the fire was out, pickup trucks backed up to the museum’s doors to carry those items to the city’s youth center.

There volunteers went to work sorting, drying and cleaning everything.

One of those volunteers was retired teacher Melissa Miller-Tibbetts, who used tweezers to remove small pieces of ash from the decks of the Delta Queen model.

“We liked to take our students to museums while I was teaching. I had never been to the (river) museum with one of my classes until a couple of years ago. When this came up, I knew I needed to help out however I could,” she said.

“As a community we need to come out and do what we can.”

Younger people also helped. Shelby Plants helped wipe down the Delta Queen. Nearby, Conner Grady used a toothbrush and paper towels to remove soot and ash from a steamboat model. Other people young and old wiped pages and covers of books and photos.

One of the more popular displays at the museum was the model of the Silver Bridge, which collapsed into the Ohio River on Dec. 15, 1967, killing 46 people. The model and its display case were damaged by falling debris. At the youth center, it had been divided into two sections to dry.

“That was the first thing we went after,” said Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley.

After the items were cleaned and dried, they were taken to what was called the dry room to await their transfer to the museum’s temporary quarters. On Tuesday, members of the Point Pleasant High School football team were assisting that effort.

It was a busy day, as the dry room was filling up.

Shana Roberts, a volunteer in the cleanup, said the call went out on Facebook for volunteer labor and for cleaning supplies, food and drinks. The community responded, with more volunteers working the second day than the first, she said.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in two days,” she said Tuesday, two days after the fire.

Jack Fowler, the museum’s executive director, said he was thankful for the community’s response to the museum’s need.

“It’s been amazing,” he said.

American Electric Power, one of the museum’s corporate sponsors, sent eight employees to the museum on Monday to clean the floors and remove debris, Fowler said. They cleaned the first floor and were ready for the second until the insurance company forbade them to go upstairs, he said.

The museum’s board of directors now faces the task of rebuilding the museum. The building itself is owned by the city of Point Pleasant, while the museum foundation is responsible for its contents.

True to the internet age, while there were still hot spots in the building, a GoFundMe account was started to collect public donations for the recovery effort. At last report it had raised more than $2,000.

That’s a small amount compared to what will be needed to put the museum back in business, but it shows that a community took ownership of its museum and used the good side of social media to begin the recovery process.

Jim Ross is a Huntington resident and former reporter and editor for The Herald-Dispatch.

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