Maui Fire Lawyers – Surviving Lahaina Artifacts Remain At Risk

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / AUG. 28 The historic Baldwin Home Museum, seen from Hotel Street in Lahaina, was gutted in the Aug. 8 wildfire. According to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, it was the oldest missionary home on Maui, built between 1834 and 1835.

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / AUG. 28

The historic Baldwin Home Museum, seen from Hotel Street in Lahaina, was gutted in the Aug. 8 wildfire. According to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, it was the oldest missionary home on Maui, built between 1834 and 1835.

Most of Lahaina’s surviving historical and cultural artifacts remain buried under ash and debris a month and a half after a horrific wildfire ravaged the center of the historic town.

“There are possibly dozens and maybe even hundreds of artifacts that survived the fire,” said Kimberly Flook, deputy executive director of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. “But we don’t know for sure.”

While the foundation and members of other history and archaeology groups are ready to retrieve the surviving items, they’ve been unable to because of other priorities associated with the ongoing rescue and recovery effort.

Meanwhile, the artifacts are potentially deteriorating while exposed to ash, soot, dust and debris, in possible combination with other chemicals.

At least there hasn’t been a significant rainfall since the Aug. 8 fire. “If it rains, water and ashwill make lye, and lye is a destructive chemical,” said Flook, an archaeologist by training.

Uilani Kapu and her husband, Ke‘eaumoku Kapu, operate the fire-destroyed Na‘Aikane o Maui Cultural Center, which lost a treasure trove of old documents, maps, genealogy books, carvings and artifacts. The building and its contents are estimated at $2 million, she said.

Kapu said she and her husband haven’t been allowed to return to sift through the ruins of the building, but there’s a chance poi pounders, adzes and other items survived. “We’re hoping they’re still there,” she said. “But I’ve heard there’s a lot of looting.”

At least 97 people perished and more than 2,000 structures were destroyed by the wildfire that started in the former sugar cane fields above Lahaina and driven into town by gusts of 60 mph or more.

The area in and around Front Street — designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962 — was leveled by the blaze, along with its historic buildings, landmarks and sites.

The 60-year-old Lahaina Restoration Foundation is the steward of at least 17 old buildings, landmarks and historical sites, most of them destroyed or severely damaged in the fire.

Also lost in the blaze was the foundation’s office. Now working out of Central Maui, Theo Morrison, the foundation’s executive director, said she and her staff have been unable to check on the sites they manage.

With many of the sites open to the public, they were home to lots of displays of artifacts and furnished with period pieces from the different eras of Lahaina. Anything that was made of fabric, paper or wood is likely lost, said Flook.

That includes an original flag of the Hawaiian kingdom, last flown in 1898, when it was replaced with the American flag. The flag was on display in the Lahaina Heritage Museum, which sat in the gutted Old Lahaina Courthouse.

Also lost from the museum was a large antique piece of kapa, a delicate Hawaiian feather lei with bone pendant and the Baldwin family Bible, which belonged to the descendants of Dr.Dwight Baldwin, the missionary who arrived on Maui in 1836.

Likely destroyed at the Baldwin Home Museum were antique musical instruments, a Hawaiian land snail collection with extinct specimens and a sewing box that belonged to Charlotte Baldwin, wife of Dwight Baldwin.

At the leveled Wo Hing Museum, antique mahjong sets and abacus tools were undoubtedly lost, along with old donation records that shows the breadth of Lahaina’s former Chinatown.

On the positive side, many Native Hawaiian artifacts made of lava rock and stone may have survived, Flook said.

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