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Missouri History Museum Looks For Ferguson Artifacts In Burnt Down Building

Missouri History Museum employees dig through ash and scrap metal for artifacts on Jan. 29, 2015, at the burned-out Fashions R Boutique in Ferguson.
Emanuele Berry
St. Louis Public Radio

Owner of Fashions R Boutique, Juanita Morris was stunned when she got the call that her shop was on fire.

“No, not my building,” Morris said. “But you know, I looked, the building next door was burning and the building across the street was burning, so I just said, 'Well I was just caught up in the middle'.”

The boutique, at 9844 West Florissant in Dellwood, was burned to the ground in November, after a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson.

Parts of the roof have caved in, the rest is gone. Some of the building’s pink walls are still standing, but the interior is mostly piles of ash and sheets of bent and burned metal.

On Thursday morning, volunteers from the Missouri History Museum went to the site, hoping to find historical treasure in the ash. The museum has launched the Ferguson Collecting Initiative. It is collecting artifacts linked to events surrounding Michael Brown’s death.

Digging through the debris of the Boutique, volunteers discovered shoes, necklaces, sewing machines, computer parts and clothing racks.

Edna Smith, assistant librarian at the Missouri History Museum, says she would shop for suits at Fashions R Boutique. When she heard about the initiative she called Morris to ask whether the Museum could look through the rubble.

Edna Smith picks up the remains of a computer keyboard.
Credit Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio
Edna Smith picks up the remains of a computer keyboard.

“When I called her she said, 'Of course, come on out',” says Smith. “She said, 'Now you know you're going to get dirty, it's junk.' I said 'What’s junk to you is an artifact to us'.”

Smith says although the fire and the events in Ferguson are recent, it’s the museums job to start building a collection now.

“We kind of look at everything as a historical moment,” she said. “It’s a moment in time that we will not get back. That’s us. This is what we do. We preserve history and that is what we are doing here today."

Objects selected by the museum will become part of a research collection. There is currently no exhibit planned, but the material will be accessible through the museum’s research center and library.

Director of Library and Collections Chris Gordon says he hopes the collection will provide a clear picture of what happened in Ferguson

“This whole event is something that has deeply affected the community, but it was also an international event. That became obvious very soon, that history was in the making, that it was happening all around us,” Gordon says. “As a historical institution, I think we are obligated to try to go out and document as much as we can and we’re on the ground floor of this event on this issue.”

Credit Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio
A collection of objects found in the debris.

Gordon says the museum is encouraging people with varying perspectives to donate personal artifacts to the Ferguson collection, as it’s important to provide many different viewpoints for an accurate historical understanding. The museum is looking for both digital and physical items to archive.

Store owner Morris says she welcomes the history museum's efforts.

“This is an honor,” she said. “How many people get a chance to be in a museum?”

As for the store, Morris plans to rebuild.

“It is going to be a bigger and better building, better than it was, larger than it was, stronger than it was and more customers,” she says.

The store will be built in the same location. Morris says, despite the fire, she wouldn't think of moving, the location has been a blessed spot for her.