Have you ever been on tour at Parkwood, or another museum, and noticed the insect traps? Or for that matter the mouse traps? It’s all part of an Integrated Pest Management Program at your local heritage site and a large part of our preservation work. Our insect traps are pheromone based and yes, every couple of weeks, I look at them, and log what and whom I find in there ( glamorous, isn’t it?) or on occasion I find an envelope containing some DEAD creature with several legs, with a note,“found in tub in Col. Sam’s room, just in case you need to know.”
Book lice, cockroaches, moths, silverfish, the house spider…all sorts of creepy crawlies exist at Parkwood, and yes, the cause of many itchy sessions in my office, a major cause of concern with regards to the preservation matters of our significant collections. For example, the American cockroach feeds on leather and the lovely proteins it can find in all the leather Parkwood has to offer to sustain a single cockroach life. Leather top tables, leather upholstery, leather bindings in the pipe organ, leather book covers, etc. A variable feast for a tenacious roach!
This week I have been battling the carpet beetle. Treatments of boric acid along baseboards, rooms being closed to public tours, and staff, to ensure there is no beetle migration to other rooms, or our own homes; massive cleaning with HEPA vacuum filters; covert visits to darkened rooms to seek entry or nesting points; book collections being frozen in the “curatorial” freezer in the basement; etc. have been part of the Parkwood fight to ensure we rid ourselves of these pests, and prevent any further damage to the collections. It is this sort of outbreak that has Parkwood revisit our museum practises and procedures when it comes to the estate and our role as stewards of such a magnificent site.
The first question I receive is how did the beetles get into the mansion? For the most part, we will never know. I cannot blame a single source. Think about the foot traffic and if the beetle came in on someones shoes; a propped open window, although we enforce screens, if a window must be opened, there are times that a screen is not guaranteed; and lets face it, the doors open and close with frequency. The standard policy in the estate is no live flowers, although, from the curatorial perspective, I am torn, because the McLaughlins’ had fresh, live florals in the house everyday, and accurate interpretation would want us to replicate (although current budgets dictate otherwise); there is the introduction of prop furniture and carpets for the film industry; there is food consumption in exhibit areas with regards to the weddings and rentals (completely ancillary business and a violation of museum standard practise, but 100% necessary to cover our costs). So, no easy answer.
Parkwood staff and volunteers continue with our regular days and duties, in between bug hunts and treatments. Museum work is not all about research and pushing paper, curators often get to be amateur entomologists, although not by choice, nor fondness for several legged creatures.