Volunteers wrap up 'virtual museum' for Hotshot remembrances
PRESCOTT - The world responded a year and a half ago when Prescott lost 19 of its Granite Mountain Hotshots, and now the world has access to the outpouring over the tragedy.
Through a newly complete "virtual museum," nearly 4,000 of the items can be viewed on the Internet.
A group of about two dozen volunteers, a Hotshot family member, and city officials gathered at the Prescott Public Library Friday afternoon to commemorate the official conclusion of work on the online museum - the third phase in the Tribute Fence Preservation Project's effort to save the thousands of remembrances that accumulated on the fence surrounding the Hotshots' former home.
"The time and effort put forward to catalog all of these items is just one of those milestones," Prescott Fire Chief Dennis Light told the group.
Starting with the poignant removal of the items in September 2013, and through the drying, photographing, categorizing, tagging, and shelving of the items, the preservation effort has been led by volunteer co-directors Dottie Morris and Jan Monroe.
Early this year, the two kicked off the start of the virtual museum, in partnership with the Prescott Public Library, and the Arizona Memory Project, Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records.
Morris and Monroe and a handful of volunteers spent about 2,700 hours on the work needed to put together the digital museum. Library staffers, including Library Manager Public Services Martha Baden, put in countless hours as well.
The result: Images and information on 3,625 of the letters, notes, T-shirts, and works of art that were left on the fence after the June 2013 death of the Hotshots while fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire.
"All of this will be here forever - on a website for the world to see," Morris said Friday. "This is for the world."
Indeed, many of the items that ended up on the chain-link fence at the fire station on Sixth Street came from far flung parts of the globe. Along with T-shirts from distant and nearby fire departments, the volunteers cataloged condolences from as far away as Australia and England.
The virtual museum - available online at www.prescottlibrary.info/tfpp - is organized by category, such as T-shirts, condolences, stuffed animals, firefighting clothing (helmets, boots, and badges), and patriotism.
It also includes more than 100 photos of the fence before the items were removed, as well as a video.
Even as work on the virtual museum has wrapped up, the future of the actual remembrances is still uncertain.
The items remain catalogued and packed away at the city's McCormick Street building, but Light said officials have yet to determine what to do with them.
Currently, he said, Support Services Division Chief Darrell Willis is working on a needs assessment to determine how the McCormick Street building fits into the department's space needs.
The original plans were for the city to renovate the donated building and use it as consolidated headquarters for fire department administration. The renovation was put on hold in 2013, however, after the Hotshot tragedy.
Meanwhile, volunteers with the Tribute Fence Preservation Projected used the building as its center for cataloguing the memorial items.
Light said he is not sure at this point whether the remembrance items will remain in the McCormick Street building. One possibility, he said, is that the city would put together a "representative display" of the items for viewing by the public.
Monroe and Morris have expressed hope throughout the preservation project that a permanent museum or display would be created by the city.
"If somebody asks me about the project, that's always the first thing they ask about," Monroe said of the possibility of a Hotshot museum.
Noting that the online museum got about 2,000 hits in November, Monroe added, "People are interested. It is a tragic part of our history, but it's here. It could easily be a nice museum, tastefully done."
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