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Thursday, March 24, 2016
Gas Mask Librarians
Our awesome PR Director, Susan Liles, directed my attention to a file of pictures yesterday and I'm so glad she did. I've found my new all-time favorite picture of librarians and the crazy backstory behind the photo.
Meet Mary Francis and Linda Roy Gates, librarians at Fisk Public Library in Natchez, Mississippi, in October of 1962. Here's the scoop on those gas masks, which you know have me thinking of this creepy kid in Dr. Who:
Dr. Who Reboot Season 1, Episode 9, The Empty Child
Back in March of 1961, a barge sank in the Mississippi River near Natchez. It was carrying 1,100 tons of liquid chlorine, and you'd better believe that stuff is not healthy at all. (Ahem, poison.) The river was incredibly high, just like this year, and so all those containers filled with poison stayed at the bottom of the river for 18 months. That's right. A whole year and a half! The river finally went down and they eventually located the sunken barge (because no one was sure exactly where it was.) Then, the government issued over 12,000 gas masks to people in Natchez, MS and Vidalia, LA, in case poisonous gas was accidentally released during the removal of the containers. (You really need to read this article from the Natchez Democrat, which goes in depth about the whole bizarre affair.) It was quite a scare for the area and residents took the threat of disaster seriously, thus my gas-mask-wearing librarians. The event was dubbed Operation Chlorine. By the way, three years later, in 1965, Fisk Public Library was moved to a brand-new location and renamed Judge George W. Armstrong Library. (A History of Mississippi Libraries, 56)