Preservationists rush to save city's history

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When Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, a group of highly trained professionals knew exactly what to do: Find and preserve Louis Armstrong's trumpet, John James Audubon's bird prints, a drum from the Battle of New Orleans and city records dating back to 1769. To a large extent, they succeeded. These and other irreplaceable ingredients of the city's history, along with Napoleon Bonaparte's death mask, early Carnival costumes and the paintings of acclaimed primitive artist Clementine Hunter, have been moved to warehouses in the Baton Rouge area, said Emily Sneed, press secretary to Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, whose office is responsible for the state museum network.

Professionals are working to salvage about 6,000 bound volumes of more than two centuries of property transactions in Orleans Parish -- about 10 percent of all the books in the Notarial Archives -- that were under 3 feet of water in the basement of the Civil District Court building on Loyola Avenue.

Concern mounted because archivists weren't allowed inside for more than a week after the storm, prompting Shelly Henley, immediate past president of the Society of Southwest Archivists, to sound the alarm in a letter to editors of several newspapers.

Without professional help, the documents "will soon be unrecoverable," she wrote. "New Orleans, a city so rich in history, may soon become a city with no history."

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