'Absolutely Devastating': 85,000 Asian-American Artifacts Likely Lost in NYC Museum Fire

Adam Warner
January 25, 2020 - 1:36 pm

NEW YORK (1010 WINS) – The Museum of Chinese in America is assessing the damage done to its collection of artifacts and other items after a fire tore through a Chinatown building Thursday night—and the assessment is not good.

As many as 85,000 irreplaceable artifacts that document the history of Asian people in the United States were likely lost in the fire at a building on Mulberry Street that houses the items.

Among the artifacts lost: textiles, letters, traditional wedding dresses and passenger ship tickets curated by the museum. An 1883 document about the Chinese Exclusion Act was also believed destroyed, as were photos of Chinatown in the 20th century.

Museum officials said the artifacts include not only those from the Chinese-American community but also the larger Asian-American community.

“One hundred percent of the museum’s collection” was stored at the building, the museum’s president, Nancy Yao Maasbach, told the New York Times. She said she was “distraught” by the toll of the blaze.

“It is the only — the single most important — repository of New York’s Chinese community,” writer Ava Chin told the Times. She said it’s “absolutely devastating for the community.”

It will be weeks before museum staff can reenter the building because it was made structurally unsound by the fire.

Firefighters were still battling pockets of flames late Friday night—more than 24 hours after the fire erupted. Ten people, nine of them firefighters, were hurt in the blaze.

Thursday night’s fire sent smoke and flames rising above lower Manhattan. The roof of the building eventually collapsed, the FDNY said.

In addition to storing items for the museum, the building also had a senior center, dance center and several community groups.