Sagamore Hill museum specialist Susan Sarna stood in the basement of Theodore Roosevelt's 1885 mansion, slipped on white cotton gloves and gingerly picked up a small poetry book that had belonged to the 26th president's wife. She then wrapped it in acid-free tissue paper and carefully placed it in an archival storage box alongside other volumes.
By next spring, the meticulous packing process for Edith Roosevelt's 1875 edition of "The Poetic Works of Thomas Moore," which had been removed from a shelf in the first-floor drawing room, will have been repeated 8,000 times with other books and 6,000 times with other artifacts ranging from an elephant foot wastepaper basket to a grizzly bear rug.
It's all part of the preparation by staff and volunteers at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site to ready the 27-room Victorian for a $6.2-million overhaul that will close it to the public for up to three years starting Dec. 5.
Before workers can start installing new electrical, heating and other systems next May, the mansion must be emptied of every book, historical item and piece of furniture. And every fireplace or historical fabric that can't be easily removed must be protected.
"We have a master plan for every single object in the house -- where it's going, when and how it's going to be packed, and who was going to pack it and where it's going to be stored," said Sarna, who is in charge of the project.
She began the planning three years ago with a $100,000 budget for packing and moving and $150,000 for off-site storage.
The first step was to update the entire inventory, including built-in items such as mantels and even wallpaper. A file was created for each object with its history, photo, details on exactly where in the house it had been displayed and a description of its materials.
Seanna Burke, an administrative support clerk who helped with the inventory, said, "I've gotten to learn a lot about the collection. You get to be up close and personal with items when you're measuring them."
Next, Sarna called in three National Park Service conservators who specialize in furniture, taxidermy, and paintings and frames. They determined what needed repairs to be able to withstand the strain of being moved and stored and made suggestions about packing and storage. About a dozen damaged frames were repaired. The examination also provided a chance for housekeeping for the rest of the collection. Every oil painting was cleaned over the past two years.
After undergoing specialized training, Sarna instructed others on short-term packing for transport to the ground's Old Orchard Museum or longer-term storage while the project lasts.
"A lot of the books have notes that Roosevelt made himself, so it's very exciting to see what he thought of what he was reading," said ranger Jennifer Ladd, who has been packing two days a week.
The packing began a year ago with books on shelves the public could not see. About 2,000 small items -- everything the public could see in the house -- will be displayed temporarily at Old Orchard. Most of the rest will be put in newly reinforced storage space in the attic there or in a vacant ranger's apartment.
About 500 items, primarily furniture and carpet, will be stored off-site.
After all the removable objects are gone by February, a special team of Park Service conservators from Boston will build plywood surrounds with interior padding and a vapor barrier for the fireplaces, built-in bookshelves and benches, and first-floor paneling to prevent damage from construction crews. The contractors are scheduled to start work in May. When they are done, it will take five or six months to return everything to its original location.
"It has been a lot of fun," Sarna said. "I have a mind that likes to organize. But I have panicked, too. If I lose something or something gets broken, it will be splashed on the front page."
Packing up at Sagamore Hill
-- Heating and ventilation, fire-suppression, lighting and security systems upgraded and new roof, gutter and drainage system installed.
-- Removal of rear porch extension and staff kitchen added in 1950s.
-- Recreation of original light and air shaft running from the roof to second floor.
-- First floor to be handicap-accessible.
-- About 10 rooms redecorated to be more historically accurate.
PACKING AND STORAGE
-- To prepare for the work, staff has spent three years updating the inventory of 8,000 books and 6,000 other artifacts in the house and drawing up a plan for packing, moving and storing each object.
-- About 2,000 small items that had been visible to the public will be displayed temporarily in cases at Old Orchard Museum on the grounds, which will remain open during the work. Five hundred pieces of furniture and carpet will be stored in moving company warehouses while the rest of the collection will be stored in the attic of Old Orchard and a vacant ranger's apartment.
Source: National Park Service