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Corning, New York: The Crystal City: 1972 Flood

This guide focuses on the glass-related history of the Corning, New York, and surrounding area, including local resources, special collections, and topics unique to Corning's glass history.

Detail of aerial view of The Corning Museum of Glass surrounded by floodwaters. Photo by Jerry Wright. (CMGL 128721)

The Flood of 1972

A sign in the Museum’s Admissions Lobby features a red line and the words “High Water Level, June 23, 1972.” This simple label fascinates visitors, but only hints at the devastating story behind it. The marker doesn’t convey that the flood caught the region largely unaware in the early hours of that June day; or that it scattered display cases and glass objects across galleries, and devastated the Museum’s renowned library; or that 17 people were rescued by helicopter from the roof of the Corning Glass Center. All this from a shallow, placid river a block from the Museum. At the time, former Museum director Thomas S. Buechner described the flood as the “greatest single catastrophe borne by an American museum.”

Continue reading about the flood.

Museum Under Water: The Corning Flood of 1972

The Corning Flood: Museum Under Water

"On June 23, 1972, The Corning Museum of Glass was flooded to a level of five feet, four inches above the floor, possibly the greatest single catastrophe borne by an American museum. The Agnes Flood broke hundreds of objects, saturated over half the Library (and all the rare books), ruined equipment, and covered galleries, cases, offices, furniture, and files with a thick layer of slime. Thirty-nine days later, on August first, the Museum was reopened to the public, and four years later, in June of 1976, the Museum completed the task of restoring the glass collection and the Library. This book describes the restoration process and offers suggestions for disaster planning gleaned from experience."

Excerpted from the Preface of The Corning Flood: Museum Under Water
The Preface was written by Thomas Buechner,
former Director of The Corning Museum of Glass

Access a digitized PDF of The Corning Flood: Museum Under Water.

Exhibitions About the Flood

There have been two exhibitions at The Corning Museum of Glass commemorating the flood and the subsequent recovery:

Museum Under Water | June 2, 2002 to September 2, 2002
This exhibition, installed on the 30th anniversary of the Hurricane Agnes flood, showed some of the miraculous survivors of this catastrophe. They included a lampworked fox-hunting scene composed of small figures in a wood and glass frame, a candelabrum that was on display in the English Gallery, a Roman jug that was broken into 124 fragments, and a copy of Antonio Neri's The Art of Glass once owned by King Charles II of England.

The Flood of ’72: Community, Collections, and Conservation | May 24, 2012 to January 3, 2014
This exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the flood detailed the damage caused by the floodwaters, as well as the spirit of the community and Museum staff that drove them to rebuild. Photographs, documents, and other selected historical materials from the Library’s collection highlighted the flood, its aftermath, subsequent reconstruction, and the development of new disaster preparedness programs and conservation techniques.
 

Images of the Flood

Roadside sign informing tourists of reopening date.

Roadside sign informing tourists of reopening date. Courtesy of Corning Incorporated, Archives (CMGL 128352)

Raymond Errett restores covered beaker.

Raymond Errett restores covered beaker (51.3.215). (CMGL 128269)

Detail of King’s Dairy under water.

Detail of King’s Dairy under water. Courtesy of Arthur A. Houghton Jr. Library, Corning Community College, Corning, NY.

Conservator Carolyn Horton places pages into a de-molding solution to be washed

Conservator Carolyn Horton places pages into a de-molding solution to be washed. Photo by Richard Howard. (CMGL 125739, 125738)

“Water began to drop Friday afternoon . . .” The Gaffer, July 1972. (CMGL 379041)

Fragments of Beilby goblet

Fragments of Beilby goblet (50.2.8 B). (CMGL 126323)

Museum volunteers drying prints

Detail of Museum volunteers drying prints. Courtesy of Corning Incorporated, Archives. (CMGL 127307)

Headlines from special flood edition of The Leader

Headlines from special flood edition of The Leader, October 9, 1972. Used with permission of The Leader. (CMGL 128285)

Debris from office areas.

Debris from office areas. (CMGL 126366)

Chemung River Valley Map

A map indicating which cities in the valley were flooded along the Chemung River. Courtesy of Corning Incorporated Archives. Click to see a larger version.

Find More Images

Explore this gallery to see additional images of the flood and it's impact. For a more complete list of images, visit our catalog.

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