Pre-Dawn Gulley Washer Floods Fondren, 1966

Library flood May 13 1966

In the early hours of Friday, May 3, 1966 heavy rains caused a storm sewer to blow and water began emptying into a tunnel that served the new wing of the Fondren Library. By the time it was over the entire basement, including the Rare Book Room, was flooded. It’s a sickening sight even now and it’s hard to imagine what it must have felt like at the time. But in true stalwart librarian fashion, cleanup began before it was even fully light outside. It must have been a long day and probably a long weekend as well. There was a significant amount of damage.

Fondren flood 3

Fondren flood 5Fondren flood 6Fondren flood 7

It looks like lots of people pitched in. Here’s Professor Tsanoff drying out rare books by sliding pieces of paper in between the leaves:

Fondren flood 4

Bonus:  I just like the way this looks.


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13 Responses to Pre-Dawn Gulley Washer Floods Fondren, 1966

  1. Leoguy says:

    Rare Book Room in the basement, in Houston. What could possibility go wrong?

  2. This flood was before my time, but it brings back memories of the 1976 flood that filled the RMC basement with water and who knows what else. The Campus bookstore was in the basement, and I remember several of us helping Mr. Bill Red move the above water inventory out of there. I will never forget the sink of wet rotting paper. The radio studios had a layer of floating paper everywhere, much of it from telephone directories that had come apart. As the water was pumped out we had to keep shoveling up all of that mess. The band’s music library was soaked. As I recall, NASA offered the services of a walk in freeze dryer to help the band recover their music. Something for archivists to keep in mind for the next flood.

  3. Barney L. McCoy says:

    Jim Wilkerson and I were walking by the library, on our way to Tsanoff’s class in “Autobiography”, when we encountered the debacle. Luckily, I was in my usual warm weather wardrobe of cutoffs, T-shirt and slip-on tennis shoes. Luckily also, Tsanoff and Davidson were understanding when I cut their classes to help out. When the weekend was over, I had to throw away the shoes. The rumor going around the campus was that somehow the construction company was partly at fault.
    Barney L. McCoy, Hanszen 67

    • Mark Williamson says:

      By the time I arrived that fall, the rumor had become a little twisted. We were told that the flood happened over a weekend, and that the construction company had cast the floors and walls of a substantial network of nascent stream tunnels (leaving a concrete trough), then punched through the wall of the basement of Fondren before knocking off for the week. Add copious amounts of rain. Presto: instant rivers and underground lake.

  4. Bonus: better look now while you can…

  5. Nancy Burch says:

    Iwas working in the library then and we all worked for days inserting paper towels in between the pages of the rare books. Amazingly, the older the volumes were the better they withstood being soaked. Many of the more recent scientific publications, also shelved in the basement at that time, could not be salvaged.

  6. grungy1973 says:

    The MOB’s file cabinet drawers, complete with sodden music or files, were pried out of the cabinets and taken to Building 32 at JSC.
    The drawers were then placed on metal shelves in Chamber “B”, which was created to hold the entire Lunar Excursion Module, and do vacuum thermal testing.
    Thermocouple sensors were inserted in some of the contents, and rigged to sensors on the outside.
    Seal the doors and pump it down to a hard vacuum.
    Add a small amount of heat.
    The water freezes in the vacuum, and then sublimes from solid to gas, and the vapor was pumped out.
    When the ice has all sublimed, the sensors will show that the temperature has climbed above 0˚C.
    The contents are dry.
    FEMA paid for the process.
    We were sharing shelf space with material from the UH Law Library and the Contemporary Arts Museum.
    The CAM stuff looked like it had been shoveled into tubs. It did not fare well.
    Except for the music that was on electrostatic copy paper, ours was good, if not entirely flat afterward.
    Someday I’ll find the slides of that…

  7. I am reasonably certain that the Houston Symphony used exactly the same process at NASA after Allison flooded their library. Their stuff is dry and apparently readable but too brittle and smelly to be used for performance. Still, most of the archival conductors’ markings and parts are at least copy-able.

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