Today’s post is written by Onaona Guay, a processing archivist in College Park.
One of the more unique items in the September 11 Recovery Program records is a cartoon sketch of Ground Zero and surrounding areas—referred to as “The Zone”—done on a whiteboard. Although the National Archives receives records in a variety of media and formats, a whiteboard is not a common acquisition. The inherent impermanent nature of a whiteboard makes it a highly unusual medium for an archival record, and presents unique preservation challenges.
Because the surface of a whiteboard is designed specifically for non-permanent markings, one careless or unintentional swipe could destroy the sketch. To eliminate the risk of exposure while still providing access to the informational value of the sketch, the whiteboard and sketch were captured as a high quality digital image. This image can now be viewed by a wider audience than the physical object ever could be thanks to the internet; the digital image also allows greater accessibility to the sketch with no risk to the artifact.
Additional measures were taken to seal the whiteboard under plexi-glass, which will protect the sketch from erasure while still allowing viewing. The board was then housed in a custom-made box.
Very little background information is known about the sketch. It is postulated that the artist was most likely a policeman or firefighter by the last name of Sheppard, and part of the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard. The board was used at Respite Center #1.