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Fire Destroys The Lost Colony Costume Shop

By Megan Roberts, East Carolina University

April 10, 2008

On September 11, 2007, a fire destroyed three buildings and eighty percent of the costumes used by the outdoor drama The Lost Colony.  The fire, which has been determined as accidental, started in the maintenance shop and moved on to the Irene Rains Costume Shop.  The fire was brought under control in about an hour and a half, saving the main theater from harm. The buildings and costumes are being estimated as a 2.7 million dollar loss. However, no one was injured during the fire that started early on the morning of the 11th.

Costumes were not the only loss: wigs, shoes, armor, swords, and breastplates were destroyed as well. The estimated number of costumes lost is 1500, but 20-50 Elizabethan courtier costumes were saved due to a trip to the cleaners, as well as the Elizabeth I gown, which was at a museum exhibit. In addition to the show’s current costumes designed by William Ivey Long, handmade costumes made by Irene Rains, Long’s mentor, in the 1950s and 60s were destroyed, along with costumes made by Fred Voelpel in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. As many has been pointed out, more costumes can be made, but these older costumes can never be replaced. “I’m still sort of swimming in the enormity of all this,” said William Ivey Long, the show’s production designer and five-time Tony Award-winning Broadway costume designer, a few days after the fire.

Only one person, Carolyn Nicodemus reported the fire. If Nicodemus hadn’t reported the fire, more than likely the main theater would have been damaged. Nicodemus spotted the fire from across Roanoke Sound and referred to it as “a glow” that kept “growing and growing.” She called 911 immediately. “She’s going to be our hero,” said Carl Curnutte, executive director and producer of The Lost Colony. Curnutte has also shown his gratitude by offering Nicodemus a lifetime membership as well as being the show’s guest of honor on opening night of the 71st season.

Monetary donations have been pouring in to help The Lost Colony production with replacing costumes and buildings. Since the contents were only insured for $40,000, a fair amount of money will need to be raised. The Outer Banks Visitor Bureau donated $250,000 to the cause. The Outer Banks Community Foundation awarded the production with a $50,000 grant. The National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) awarded a grant of $20,000, the first NEA grant ever given to an outdoor drama.

Beyond monetary donations, the surrounding community and the rest of the country have donated their time and materials. Community assistance has come from the show’s alumni, amateur seamstresses, professional costumers, businesses, and other organizations. Joan Brumbach, a seamstress, and a few other women in the community put in 300 hours of work in two weeks towards replacing costumes. Materials and costume pieces are being sent to jump start replacement efforts from as far away as California.

Thankfully, what the production team refers to as the “costume bible” was saved. The “bible” documents each costume with a detailed description and photographs.  Long’s goal is to make this next set of costumes even more historically accurate than those lost. As of now, he has the first 100 designs ready. With only a few months until the May 30th opening, it looks like Long has his work cut out for him. However, The Lost Colony “team” is in it for the long haul. “It might be right down to the deadline, and on opening night we might be sewing on buttons,” John Tucker, chairman of the board of the Roanoke Island Historical Association said,” but the show will go on.”


There are too many articles about the fire and recovery efforts in the three newspapers serving the Outer Banks to list here. General information about the fire and recovery efforts is available at The Lost Colony’s website, <http://www.thelostcolony.org/>.