Tunica County inmates spent 10 days sandbagging around the Tunica Riverpark's walls, and a handful of employees even waded through water to reinforce a door as the river surged toward its crest just outside the museum's magnificent riverfront window.
Still, an inch of water ended up on the floor, and the museum's collection of indigenous river fish and 'gators has been sent elsewhere for safekeeping.
"I am not an (insurance) estimator," state Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, said by e-mail after touring the site last week, "but ... unless they get in there hurriedly, mold will turn the entire place into a high school lab class."
It's not a pretty fate for a $26 million facility that opened in 2004 to recognize and honor the area's river heritage. Then again, the museum isn't suffering alone.
In addition to residents driven from their homes, nearby casinos that generated the gaming tax used to build the museum are also closed and hurting because the record flooding that crested in recent days -- an event that Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau head Webster Franklin terms "an economic disaster unlike anything ever seen" in North Mississippi.
Still, the flooding of the museum seems a particularly cruel twist of fate given its role as a keeper of the river's history here.
The museum includes exhibits focusing on the river, Native Americans, early explorers and settlers in the region, the levee system and the economic impact of the river on the region. One of its most distinctive features is two large aquariums that house indigenous Mississippi River species.
Mayo, whose state House district includes parts of Tunica and DeSoto counties, has been active in meeting with residents and local officials since the flooding began to survey damage, answer questions and direct queries about assistance.
He toured the museum site with Richy Bibb, owner of the Tunica River Queen dinner boat that launches near the museum.
Mayo described a valiant effort to protect the museum with as little damage as possible as the water begins to recede.
"The carpet is ruined and a decision has yet to be made about removing it before FEMA or insurance can inspect it," he said. "With no electricity, the museum cannot operate big blowers to begin drying out.
"Someone lent them a generator, and the three-man army began using shop vacuums and carpet cleaners to suck up the water. But there was too much water. So someone used Yankee ingenuity — sorry, Southern Smarts — to get the job done. With brooms and squeegees, they directed the water to the elevator shaft, where they could use a sump pump to send it outside through fire department-provided hoses."
Franklin, the Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO, said the museum would have been OK with the original expected river crest of 45 feet.
"When they raised it to 48 feet, that changed the game," Franklin said. "That's when the water got in."
He said he has received authorization from insurers to begin in the coming days hiring a company to de-humidify the museum and remove mold.
Mayo said Tunica "stood to lose treasure" if the museum was not protected and restored.
"I hope that does not happen," he said. "I take my grandchildren there often.
"I send a lot of people there. This (the museum) is what a county can do for a community by spending its gaming money to attract tourists and educate its citizens on where they come from, why they are where they are and where they may be headed."
One bit of good news— Franklin thinks the museum has a ready-made future exhibit.
"I think the great flood of 2011 will have to be there."