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How Do You Pack an African Cape Buffalo Head?

Sagamore Hill Prepares to Put Its Collection Into Storage

Just how do you pack an African Cape Buffalo head when it is part of the historic Sagamore Hill National Park site collection? Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill home will undergo a $6.2 million rehabilitation beginning in spring 2012. The three year project will give the home a comprehensive interior and exterior rehabilitation of its architectural and structural elements, from its roof to the foundation and for that work to begin – the house needs to be cleared and the collection put in storage.

Amy Verone, Sagamore Hill curator knows the answer to the question about moving an African Cape Buffalo head. “The big furniture and any objects too complicated; or too large for us to handle, like the big animal heads and the piano, will be packed professionally. Susan Sarna, museum specialist is leading the packing effort with our volunteers for the rest of the house, and they have been working like soldiers and doing a great job,” said Ms. Verone.

The house is expected to be all cleared out by May 2012 to hand over to the contractors, she said. In the meantime, “We are packing all the museum collections in the house so they can be removed from the house to off-site storage.

“The collection has been cataloged. What we did leading up to the packing – with Sue and her staff of volunteers - was to physically check by hand all the things in the house to see that the catalog numbers were there; and could be seen; and were marked clearly. Even if a label falls off in a hurricane we will still be able to identify the piece and where it belongs. We did it for all the 23 furnished rooms in the house. And Sue also organized the staff and volunteers to pack and they started packing books last spring/early winter. We have all the behind the scenes material packed and most of it is out of the house.

“Now we are packing in places where people can see us. We are working down in the house. We started at the third floor. We pack all the small stuff we can handle: pictures, books, flower pots, things on the tables and such: whatever is on the walls and all the smaller objects. Then we pack the linens; and fold up the blankets. The big furniture and any objects too complicated; or too large for us to handle, such as big animal heads and the piano – they will be packed professionally,” said Ms. Verone.

As to how long it will take to pack, she said, “We started last winter and if you count all the preparation work and checks, it will take more than 18 months. That includes all the planning that goes into it. As for the last stage of packing, our goal is to have the house emptied out the first of May 2012 and then the contractors will come in. The idea is to turn the house over to the contractors on the first of May.”

Air Conditioning the House?

When asked if the renovation will include air conditioning – since during the summer the third floor can go up to 103 degrees and has to be closed to the public, Ms. Verone said “no”. She said, “They did a three-year environmental study of the building. One was a study of the architecture to see how the house was designed to work. Then they did an environmental study to see if we could put in an a/c system.

“The house is designed to be drafty, a summer home. If we closed it up, the internal systems would not work. On the second floor all of the rooms on the north, west and south connect via doorways. The idea was to open them up in summer so the air can flow freely.

“There were several things wrong in the house. The humidity system is not working; the blowers are old 20th century systems. We are not going to update; we are going to repair all the old systems and see how it works. One contractor suggested for the future to figure out a way to cool just the third floor. That would take care of the cooling problem. There are even special air conditioners that are meant to go into systems already built. That would improve circulation throughout the building.” Ms. Verone said, “Sometimes we have to close the top floor in a hot summer. But we realized the house is designed to be lived in and not closed up at night. We don’t live in the house and open the windows at night and let the cool evening air come in. We can’t for security. All of that effects how the house works.

“One of the most interesting items that came up in the study was that they removed an air shaft between the second and third floor. It ran all the way to the attic through the roof. Something like that has an eyebrow vent that can be closed in bad weather or opened at night to cool the center of the building. It was an interior space and no one can crawl into it at night. The idea of having this shaft to cool off the building is interesting. At first I thought the architects were nuts but now I think it will work out.

“We try so hard. We look at our historic building and ask how we can make them better. But, it’s about how the building originally worked. You can’t make a 20th century building but you can make it the best functioning 19th century building you can,” she said.

“All over the world there is unique architecture built for dealing with local environments the best way. In this case, the house is built for a 19th century seaside environment,” said Ms. Verone.

All in all, it’s an interesting project – taking the best from the old and making it the best in this century.