Harrison County

Faulty cooler starts fire at Ohr-O’Keefe Museum

The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi has a five-campus building. It’s dedicated to the ceramics of George Ohr and the cultural diversity of the Mississippi Coast.
The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi has a five-campus building. It’s dedicated to the ceramics of George Ohr and the cultural diversity of the Mississippi Coast. Sun Herald File

A fire at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum early Thursday caused minor smoke and water damage but the museum’s artifacts were not damaged, a fire official said.

A mechanical malfunction in a cooler in the museum’s cafe started the fire, said Jeff Merrill, Biloxi Fire Department’s deputy chief of operations. The fire was reported at 7:14 a.m.

“We put the fire out and ventilated the building to clear out the smoke,” Merrill said. “There is some minor water damage from water used to extinguish the fire.”

The museum was to host a luncheon Friday with former major league baseball player Dale Murphy, best remembered for his time with the Atlanta Braves. The luncheon has been moved to the Saenger Theatre.

The museum has five buildings on Beach Boulevard.

The fire was in the welcome center, used for ticketing and lectures. It also houses the museum’s store.

“The museum shop is covered with soot and we need to air out the whole building,” said Kevin O’Brien, the museum’s executive director. “It’s going to take us a few days, maybe a few weeks, to clean it up and air it out.”

The fire started in a concession case that holds candy and sodas, he said.

“It started out as a bad day,” O’Brien said, “but no one was hurt, no one was injured and no artifacts were damaged.”

“Fortunately, the city was kind enough to let us use the Saenger for Dale Murphy’s visit in our baseball series,” he said.

The Ohr-O’Keefe is a nonprofit museum dedicated to the ceramics of George E. Ohr, remembered as the “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” and artists contributing to the cultural heritage of the Mississippi Coast.

Its whimsical campus has buildings designed by famed architect Frank Gehry and the reconstructed home of craftsman Pleasant Reed, a freed slave.

The museum is named in part for Annette O’Keefe, late wife of former Biloxi Mayor Jeremiah O’Keefe Sr. The O’Keefe family kicked off a building fund in 1998 by donating $1 million.

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