Despite massive blaze, firefighters save historical collections at Karpeles Museum

ST. LOUIS – A massive fire at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in south St. Louis miraculously didn’t destroy or damage the extensive collection of historical documents.

St. Louis firefighters arrived at the museum around 7 p.m. Tuesday night to battle the four-alarm fire.

Frank Absher, the founder of the St. Louis Media History Foundation, said the building appears to be a total loss but not anything inside.

“The fire that started, started on the back side of the auditorium upstairs, so nothing in our area was hurt by fire,” he said.

Thousands of historical documents, including the proclamation of France’s approval of the Louisiana Purchase and the Great Soulard Discovery Map, were saved. Absher credited the firefighters for putting the flames out and saving property.

“Trying to save manuscripts. While firefighters evacuated the building they carried out a large amount of items,” said St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson. “Big building fire all around. That’s why we went full arms.”

Dr. Karpeles lives in California and owns the largest private collection of original manuscripts in the world. He owns 13 museums across the United States and rotates his collections through them.

Some St. Louis history saved from the blaze includes a 1948 record, a 50-year anniversary edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1928, and several magazines.

“Dr. Karpeles believed in this so much he bought the building sight unseen,” Absher said. “They were slowly making upgrades, bringing it up to code. Wonderful old building and it’s gone.”

Absher said he isn’t sure if Karpeles will buy another building in St. Louis and rotate his collection. However, Absher said he’s already looking for another building to house all of the St. Louis Media Foundation’s artifacts and history.

Frank Absher visit Fox 2 News at 6 p.m. to discuss the aftermath of the fire. Watch that interview below in its entirety:

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