Message from the Executive Director

Dear Friends of the Emily Dickinson Museum,

The Museum issued a statement on October 26 about a misfortune at Emily Dickinson's Homestead the previous day. It read in part:

AMHERST, MASS.--On the afternoon of Oct. 25, the plaster ceiling in the front parlor of the Emily Dickinson Museum’s Homestead fell into the room. Although the building was open for tours, no one was in the room at the time of the incident; there were no injuries to staff or visitors. In order to complete a thorough safety review of the facility and assess the extent of the damages, the Emily Dickinson Museum will be closed Oct. 26 to 30 and/or until the building undergoes a full inspection. An estimate of the value of the damages is forthcoming.

Front Parlor during an earlier renovation Ceiling failure

Looking into the Homestead's unfurnished
front parlor in 2001.

The parlor after the ceiling fall October 25, 2009.

In the six years since its establishment in 2003, the Emily Dickinson Museum has taken giant steps in preservation, restoration, and maintenance of its two historic buildings and landscape. The Museum has completed several assessment, documentation and planning studies of the buildings and grounds, as well as preparation of a master plan for overall restoration. We’ve also kept up a brisk pace of preservation projects: restoration of the Homestead’s exterior to its nineteenth-century colors, replacement of its electrical system, new state-of-the art fire detection systems in both historic houses, perimeter drainage around both houses to solve moisture problems, as well as numerous smaller projects. Most recently, the Museum Board spearheaded a stellar restoration of the historic hedge and fence along the 1,000-foot southern property line.

Homestead 2008   Homestead 2009
The Homestead before restoration
of the hemlock hedge and fence.
The Homestead following restoration
of the hemlock hedge and fence in September 2009.

Even with this full record of stewardship and restoration, surprises happen. One such bolt from the blue was the October 25 ceiling collapse in the Homestead parlor. The cause of the incident is being reviewed as part of a structural investigation. The plaster was not part of the original house fabric, but had been installed during the twentieth century. Photographs of the dramatic event show the entire front parlor ceiling lying across the room with furniture and objects only partially visible behind the sheet of plaster. Miraculously, and thankfully, no one was hurt. Just as astonishing is that damage to artifacts was very limited. Among half a dozen pieces of furniture, only one was seriously damaged, and of half a dozen smaller artifacts belonging to Emily Dickinson's family, only one suffered harm. This incident highlights the tremendous challenges facing those responsible for the stewardship of our nation's historic and cultural sites.

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Restoration and preservation projects abound at the Emily Dickinson Museum. We need your help now more than ever to keep our doors open and to continue the preservation work that will restore the homes and grounds to their Dickinson-era appearance. To support the Museum’s mission of education and preservation, please click the Donate button below and make a gift. Thank you for your concern for Emily Dickinson’s home and your generous support.


Jane Wald
Executive Director


Related Links:

New York Times, 10/27/2009 Ceiling Collapses at Dickinson House

New York Times Arts Beat, 10/27/2009 Part of ceiling collapses, Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst closed until weekend

Boston Herald, 10/27/2009 Falling plaster damages Emily Dickinson artifacts

Hampshire Gazette, 10/27/2009 Ceiling collapses at Dickinson family home

Hampshire Gazette, 11/3/2009 Dickinson artifacts OK after ceiling collapse at homestead