Whim Letter

This is an open letter to the St. Croix Landmark Society’s Trustees by Maresa Fanelli Evans, part-time resident of St. Croix and Ohio. This letter (published in the Virgin Islands Daily News) contributes to ongoing efforts by individuals to save the Whim Museum. [Also see previous posts Will Whim Museum Recover? , Save Whim Museum, and Set aside our differences to save the Whim Museum. Many thanks to Michael Connors for bringing this item to our attention.]   

Dear SCLS Trustees,

When my mother-in-law Mrs. Melvin H. Evans died in 2011, I happened to discover a handsome booklet in her library titled “Preserving the Legacy: The St. Croix Landmarks Society and Its Role in Preserving the Personal and Architectural Heritage of the American Virgin Islands.” This beautiful 1998 booklet was published by St. Croix Landmark Society to celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary.

It is with a heavy heart, but also some hope, that I write this email. Given all that SCLS accomplished in its first 50 years, one can only lament that such a great organization has fallen so far. How can anyone who remembers, ignores or be complacent about the SCLS’ unjustifiable decline and the challenge that faces Whim Museum’s current leadership in its 75th year?

Over the past decades, my husband Robert and I, as well as our family and guests, always enjoyed our frequent visits to Whim Museum. Robert especially appreciated his many hours at Whim’s Research Library and Archives where he traced his island ancestors back to 1792. Our St. Croix experiences were so intertwined with Landmarks Society’s educational and cultural events that their disappearance has left a great void. The decline of SCLS under its present leadership has impacted the whole Crucian community. The very popular Research Library used to have regular hours. Many, many residents and visitors looked forward to the Postkassen newsletter and the regularly scheduled events: house tours, the fascinating Ruins Rambles (later renamed “Places That Matter”) and the sublime candlelight concerts centered on the grand piano, a Steinway, donated by Isabel Mason. An original piano, a Bosendorf, donated by Victor Borge was damaged in Hurricane Hugo (1989) and had since been donated in inoperative condition by Borge to the Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, Iowa. The Museum had it repaired and restored, and every year the Museum holds a youth pianist contest funded by the Borge family.

All Landmark activities those many years were well attended and managed by a very great number of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers. What is more, these activities were successful as fundraisers that enabled the accessibility, the maintenance and the staffing of Whim Museum and the Research Library.

On a more personal note, in 2014 when Robert and I heard that Whim Museum was on the lookout for an antique Crucian made four-post mahogany bed to replace the museum’s English made bed (that belonged to former Governor-General of the Danish West Indies Peter Carl Limpricht) we decided to offer the late V.I. governor, Dr. Melvin Evans, (Robert’s father) bed to the museum. It might well have become a donation or a permanent loan. Not long after restoring our bed to mint condition and placing it in the great house, we received a solicitation for funds to repair the roof. As I recall the goal at the time was either $60,000 or $70,000. We considered making a substantial donation and anticipated follow up.

As it happened, that solicitation was one of the last communications we ever received from SCLS. For reasons never explained, around the winter of 2014-2015 all communications from SCLS dried up. Then, after the 2017 hurricanes, we naturally inquired about the fate of our family heirloom bed. We were horrified to learn that the great house roof had failed, and no advance preparation to remove small artifacts or protect the furnishings and contents had taken place.

Our bed, like all the other furniture, had been stripped of its finish since days of rain followed the winds and poured in through the defective roof. Chunks of trim molding that had been glued on the bed were missing. We were given permission to look for the missing pieces in an outbuilding and were dismayed to find all the museum furniture stored there. After the storm, everything but the piano had been relocated to the building that was ill ventilated. Nothing was being done to restore or even conserve the irreplaceable Crucian crafted mahogany furniture, the product of island craftsmen, both free and enslaved, family heirlooms lovingly donated by local Crucian families, black and white, as poignantly described in the 50th Anniversary booklet “Preserving the Legacy.”

In the five and a half years since the 2017 hurricanes few, if any, measures have been taken to forestall further deterioration of Whim Museum’s property, structures, and artifacts. Trees are growing out of the mortar joints of the great house; the shredded blue tarp still waves from the roof with huge holes. The Research Library is still in cramped quarters and rarely accessible. It is only in the last few months that there was a Request For Proposals to help with restoration. FEMA has stepped in although there have been little or no initiatives on the part of museum leadership since the disaster — no capital campaign, no focused effort to solicit donations or volunteers, no membership drive, no renewal reminders. — not even a convocation of members and interested parties for a meeting. Even the web site, the most fundamental medium of public relations, is useless for any prospective visitor. The website is well organized and has handsome photos but only obsolete information about activities and zero information about the few scheduled events. [. . .]

[. . .] Loyalty to a friend is admirable, but when that loyalty violates the interests of the whole community, it should be called into question.

For full letter, see http://www.virginislandsdailynews.com/opinion/whim-letter/article_818429af-6adc-5029-ac3b-30fe0422dfb5.html

[Photo above: the Whim Museum as it looked in the past, from https://www.gotostcroix.com/st-croix-blog/visit-estate-whim-museum-great-house/. Also see http://msummerfieldimages.com/whim-plantation-greathouse/.]

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