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Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives in College Park. 

As December 1944 ended and January 1945 began, the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) was two weeks old and the Allied forces had stopped the German effort to cross the Meuse River and capture Antwerp. But the German forces were not defeated and were not withdrawing back to the Siegfried Line in Germany, from whence the attack had been initiated on December 16. On January 3, 1945, the First U.S. Army attacking from the north of Belgium and the Third U.S. Army attacking from the south of Belgium, from the Bastogne area, started their own counterattack to push the Germans out of the salient they had created in Belgium. During the fighting around Stavelot and Malmedy in mid-January further destruction was visited upon these towns. Both had already faced devastation in mid-December.

At the end of January the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) specialist officers with the First U.S. Army, Captain Walker K. Hancock and Captain Everett P. Lesley, Jr., who spent the whole month in Belgium, visited both Stavelot and Malmedy to inspect damage to cultural property. They found, as they would note in their monthly report, that the center of Malmedy had been completely destroyed by artillery fire and that they were told looting had been prevalent. As for Stavelot, they noted that looting and wanton damage took place, but they had found it impossible to ascertain by what troops, at what time. In their report, dated February 1, 1945, Hancock and Lesley observed that the post-occupational situation at Stavelot and Malmedy, had brought into sharper focus more than ever before certain very basic problems common to MFA&A work: it was geographically and chronologically impossible for the officers working in the field to cover, prior to, during, and after operations, all the monuments [e.g., historic buildings] falling within their jurisdiction. Certain responsibilities had, they wrote, devolved upon Corps and Division G-5 (Civil Affairs) Sections, and Civil Affairs Detachments assigned to given localities, but that the fulfillment of the responsibilities in an emergency, or during rapid movement, must often wait upon other, more urgent matters, such as public health, public safety, food and transportation. Yet, by the time a given military situation has subsided sufficiently to make possible the posting of “off-limit” signs to buildings, writing of reports, and other duties required by handbooks and instructions, much irreparable damage may have been done.

They observed that it would not be advantageous to increase the dissemination of printed matter regarding MFA&A activities to the Civil Affairs Detachments, which already had more printed matter than was convenient to handle, and it was manifestly impossible for a single officer attached to an entire Army to prepare breakdown lists of monuments to cover all the constantly changing unit areas. They added:

There remains only one means by which the MFA&A Specialist Officer in the field can, in a measure, prevent the reoccurrence of such incidents as those of Stavelot and Malmedy. He must be free to work, for longer periods at a time, with the commanders of Corps, Divisions, and Regimental Combat teams, in advance of and during operations. There he could make preliminary pinpointing, in conjunction with tactical commanders at lower echelons, of monuments within their areas and accompanying, if feasible, the commander of these echelons during operations, in order to post, protect, appraise, or inventory monuments. As an answer to the problem of covering an entire Army area during a rapid operation we further suggested the feasibility of designating a particular member of the Corps G-5 Staff to consult with the MFA&AA office to pinpoint monuments in the anticipated corridor of operations.

In order to accomplish this, they added, more latitude of movement was absolutely necessary, and observed that:

 The MFA&A officers represent a service both unparalleled and unprecedented in the U.S. Army, one which cannot easily be processed through traditional channels. It is unrealistic to assume that the duties so uniquely theirs will or can be carried out by others. The need for the MFA&A Specialist Officers is to be on the spot at the time danger to monuments is imminent, or damage is taking place. All tactical commanders with whom the undersigned have conferred are unanimous in agreeing that the place for the MFA&A Specialist Officer is in the advance, not rear, of tactical operations.

Several days after writing their report, the commanding general of the First U.S. Army, gave Hancock and Lesley the latitude of movement they had urged be given.

In his report on the work of the Monuments Men during January 1945, British Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, in charge of the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) MFA&A operations, wrote that “The most insistent problem facing this Section [G-5, SHAEF] in January had been the billeting question-especially in Belgium.” He observed that the reports of First U.S. Army, especially those dealing with conditions in Malmedy, Stavelot and at the Chateau de Modave, showed the nature of the military use and billeting problems in its most aggravated form. Webb noted that Hancock and Lesley had come to the very natural conclusion that little help could be expected from non-specialist Civil Affairs officers dealing with the conditions such as those which prevailed in Malmedy and Stavelot and, that in such circumstances, the only course was for the MFA&A officers to be well forward themselves. He added that the directives, under which the MFA&A officers with Armies worked were formed to give wide scope for such adjustments, and the officers with First U.S. Army availed themselves of this latitude to initiate a practice [i.e., being on the spot to take corrective action with respect to unauthorized billeting in historic buildings] which it was hoped would go far to prevent such unfortunate occurrences in the future.

At the end of January, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, head of the 12th Army Group, wrote the G-5s of his four Armies (First, Third, Ninth, and Fifteenth) regarding the MFA&A Specialist Officers. After referring to the various handbooks, directives, and instructions, and mentioning their attachment to G-5s for MFA&A work, he instructed that G-5s would utilize these officers to the best advantage in the areas for which they were responsible. These officers, he wrote, to be informed, would need to make inspections of the listed and other important monuments and collections in the areas of the commands to which they were assigned or attached, and to keep acquainted with conditions in such areas from the time of occupation by elements of such commands. These officers, he instructed, would advise the G-5s, concerning monuments and collections not on the Official List of Protected Monuments which need to be exempted from military use or to have special protection.

Bradley also wrote that as a measure contributing to the eventual restitution of works of art and objects of a scientific or historical importance which may have been looted from United Nations governments or nations, the MFA&A officers would investigate all information of such nature and inspect all repositories of such works falling within the area of the command to which they were assigned or attached, and report their findings. Of course, in January, the Monuments Men were not, with the exception of the Aachen area, in a physical position to seek out looted cultural property, nor German cultural treasures that had been evacuated eastward for protection. That would change in February 1945, as the Allies began their drive to the Rhine River, and cross it in March.

Full-citation version



Subject File Aug 1943-1945 (Entry UD-55B, NAID 612714), Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Record Group 331: Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II.

 Activity Reports and Related Records, 1945-1950 (Entry A1 517, NAID 3725266), Munich Central Collecting Point, Records Concerning the central Collecting Points (“Ardelia Hall Collection”), Records of the Office of Military Government (U.S.) OMGUS, Record Group 260: Records of United States Occupation Headquarters, World War II, Record Group 260, National Archives Microfilm Publication No. M1946


Today’s post is written by Cody White, an archivist at the National Archives at Denver. 

In February 1939, the Superintendent of Carlsbad Caverns National Park Thomas Boles wrote to Robert Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” and Floyd Gibbons’ “Headline Hunter” radio program about what he considered to be an unbelievable story; a ranger had fallen into the 754 foot elevator shaft at the park and survived! The Associate Director of the National Park Service in Washington D.C. quickly squashed the publicity, pointing out that it was “highly unadvisable” to report such an accident that was due to “the carelessness or negligence of the park personnel.” Boles, whose 19 year tenure as the superintendent was filled with such efforts to gain the park more attention and publicity, complied and so the story was buried in the National Park Service records, only to be now found here at the National Archives at Denver.

To properly preface the story one must go back to 1923 when the Carlsbad Caverns National Monument was established. Shortly thereafter the National Park Service set to work creating trails throughout the main rooms of the cave and in 1930 when the monument was elevated to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, plans began to develop for an elevator that would connect the surface directly to the Big Room, bypassing the natural cave entrance and its numerous steps. On December 29, 1930, around the clock excavation began both at the top and bottom of the proposed shaft and by December 23, 1931, the elevator was finished. At the time second in height to only the Empire State Building elevators, it took 12 tons of explosives to clear out the 4,000 cubic yards of material for the 754 foot double elevator shaft. The entire project cost $88,292.43 and was celebrated at a grand opening on January 23, 1932. The state of the art elevator, capable of bringing throngs of tourists to the Carlsbad Caverns Big Room at 700 feet a minute, would be the setting for Ranger Leslie Thompson’s remarkable story.

Carlsbad Caverns Elevator Grand Opening FULL(Image One)

Official elevator opening day, January 23, 1932 (Fourth from left Arthur Seligman, New Mexico Governor, and seventh from left Thomas Boles, Carlsbad Caverns National Park Superintendent)

It was January 25, 1939 at 12:31 PM. Ranger Thompson was working the elevator that day and had just returned to the surface where Ranger Dave Heib was selling tickets to a group of 11 visitors. Assistant Electrician Claude Carpenter stepped into the elevator building and told the two rangers he needed to bring the chief clerk and the auditor down ahead of the tourist party. Thompson acknowledged Carpenter and strode over to the oil heater to warm up while awaiting the tourists. The Otis elevator car whooshed down.

With the tickets all purchased, Ranger Thompson began his prepared speech to the assembled tourists. He opened the elevator door (there was no failsafe to prevent this when the car was not there) and turning to the crowd stated “Let me see your tickets” while he backed in. A woman shrieked “Look out” but it was too late; Thompson plunged into the abyss.

Elevator Interior, at lobby level, circa 1932

Elevator Interior, at lobby level, circa 1932

Thompson knew the elevator and quickly realized the cables were his only hope. He grabbed on and thanks to the thick cable grease he was able to slow his decent while preventing severe friction burns. After falling nearly 100 feet and sliding an additional 40, Thompson found himself clinging to the cable in the dark elevator shaft. Calling out for help to the glimmer of daylight far above him, Hieb and two other employees brought a second car down the parallel cable, inching ever so slowly to where Thompson was still hanging on in the shaft. While pulling him in the men found Thompson “none worse for the experience other than a well greased uniform and a few blisters on right hand and a friction burn on left arm.”

There is no evidence in the records Thompson was reprimanded for his safety error; by his own admission he stated to the effect “that was a damn fool thing for me to do. I knew that elevator had been taken down just a few minutes ago.” In a safety report ordered by the Washington D.C. headquarters the deficiencies in safety locks on the elevator door were noted and slated to be fixed. As Superintendent Boles wrote in his official report, Thompson “is free to admit that his guardian angel was on duty that day” and so perhaps cheating death was punishment enough.

Ranger Thompson Memo (Image Three)

Ranger Thompson’s report of January 25, 1939, events.

Ranger Hieb’s report of January 25, 1939, events.

Ranger Hieb’s report of January 25, 1939, events.

All images, quotes, and source material comes from the two RG 79 Records of the National Park Service series; Southwest Regional Office “Correspondence Relating to the National Parks, Monuments, and Recreational Area, 1927-1953,” Box 249, NAID 602229, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park “General Correspondence Files, 1930-1953,” Box 42, NAID 939395.


Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

The linguists with the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) of General Douglas MacArthur’s General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) were responsible, at ATIS headquarters in Australia and, attached to units in the field, for translating captured documents and interrogating Japanese prisoners of war.

One of the difficulties encountered by these linguists in translating Japanese documents, which had been found to be an excellent source of intelligence, was the condition in which they were often received.  Coming from battle fields, crashed aircraft, graves, sunken ships and foxholes, many of them were bullet-ridden, torn, defaced, water-soaked, soiled and charred, as well as often being covered with blood, body fat, and human excreta. This made them difficult or impossible to read.  Only 30 percent of the captured documents needed no treatment; the rest needed cleaning, drying, and/or other conservation treatment.  Colonel Sidney F. Mashbir, the ATIS commander, recognizing a Document Restoration Section would have to be established to facilitate the work of his translators, in the late spring of 1944 had a message sent to the War Department requesting an officer be assigned to the SWPA to oversee the document conservation work.  The War Department decided the officer that best met Mashbir’s needs was Captain Arthur Evarts Kimberly.

Kimberly, born in Brooklyn on August 7, 1905, had received his B.S. degree in Chemistry from George Washington University in 1927, and become a paper expert with the National Bureau of Standards before joining the National Archives in October 1935, where he became chief of the Division of Repair and Preservation. By the time he entered into military service, in September 1942, he had authored “The Repair and Preservation of Records in the National Archives” (in the May 1938 issue of Chemist and the July 1938 issue of the American Archivist).  This article on methods of fumigating, cleaning, flattening, and repairing records was revised and published as National Archives Staff Information Paper No. 4 (1939).  He had also authored “Treatment of Water-Soaked Records,” National Fire Protection Association Quarterly (Vol. 33 April 1940).

About the time Kimberly received his orders to report to the SWPA, Eleanor C. Voorhees, of the Fogg Museum of Art, on July 21, 1944, wrote Paul J. Sachs, associate director of the Fogg Art Museum and a member of The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, suggesting the commission recommend Kimberly to the War Department for a position as a Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives specialist officer.  She indicated that he was known to the museum’s Department of Conservation for some years and was then serving as an officer with the U.S. Army.  “If available,” she wrote, “he would certainly be an extremely well qualified candidate.”   By the time Sachs made Kimberly’s name known to Maj. Gen. John H. Hilldring, chief of the War Department’s Civil Affairs Division, Kimberly was busy at work in the Pacific Theater.

In July 1944 Kimberly was sent to ATIS for the purpose of organizing a sub-section to clean and restore documents making them more readily legible. Upon arriving in Australia Kimberly helped to establish the Document Restoration Sub-Section.  He also quickly learned that because of the long hours the translators worked that many of them were suffering from eyestrain. He got the idea that in addition to restoring charred and soiled documents it would also benefit the translators if he could make the documents easier to read. Along with the use of chemicals and ultraviolet light to make the illegible documents readable, he also set up a simple process of sponging and ironing the pages of all documents on which the writing was decipherable. To assist Kimberly, Mashbir requisitioned six WACs [Women’s Army Corps] who had been former laundry workers, as well as procuring an electric ironer, and a few electric hand irons. Before Kimberly left, four months later, this group was ironing out about 20,000 pages a day.  Mashbir, impressed with Kimberly’s work, initiated his promotion to major and recommended him for the Legion of Merit.

To assist the units in the field deal with captured documents needing treatment, ATIS created a Document Restoration Kit.  Among other things, it contained a household electric iron; an ultra-violet lamp; various chemicals; a soft, camel’s hair brush; a spatula; a small sponge; an atomizer; and, a dissecting needle.  ATIS also published a “how-to” handbook on conservation treatment of captured records, entitled Restoration of Captured Documents: Manual for cleaning, deciphering and chemically restoring illegible captured documents (ATIS Publication No. 10, June 28, 1945). This handbook, co-authored by Kimberly contains chapters on such subjects as the rehabilitation of dirty records, deciphering illegible wiring, and treatment of charred documents. The complete text of the manual can be found via the Combined Arms Research Library Digital Library.

One of the most important and interesting aspects of the work of the Document Restoration Sub-Section occurred during April and May 1945, when records were recovered from the sunken wreck of the Japanese heavy cruiser Nachi, which lay at the bottom of Manila Bay.  The ship, which had been sunk on November 5, 1944, by aircraft from the aircraft carriers USS Lexington and USS Ticonderoga, had carried significant documentation, including detailed information relative to the composition and command structure of the entire Japanese Imperial Fleet as well as a large body of documents relating to codes and naval operating doctrine and procedures.  The documents, retrieved from the sea by U.S. Navy divers, arrived at ATIS soaked and in a condition of decomposition that was a challenge to the Documents Restoration Sub-Section.  They were, however, sufficiently restored to permit ATIS translators to translate them and publish a limited-distribution translation for the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, D.C. (ATIS Limited Distribution Translation No. 39, in twelve parts; April 22-August 18, 1945).

Kimberly would eventually serve with the 13th Air Force in the Philippines, where he was crediting with saving many of the Philippine Government records during the war.  He was discharged from the military on February 19, 1946, and returned to the National Archives. While working at the National Archives, on October 22, 1946, he organized the 113th Aircraft Control Squadron of the Washington D.C. Air National Guard.  On December 1, 1951, the unit became part of the regular Air Force, under Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Kimberly.  He would remain on active duty until June 1959.  He passed away on April 5, 1986.

Perhaps some of the conservation techniques Kimberly practiced in the Southwest Pacific Area and put forth in ATIS Publication No. 10, may not be found acceptable to conservators today.  But, at the time, under wartime conditions in the Southwest Pacific, working under pressures to get documents ready to be translated and working with limited resources, it seems he did the best he could.


ATIS Publication No. 10 Restoration of Captured Documents: Manual for cleaning, deciphering and chemically restoring illegible captured documents June 28, 1945, and other ATIS publications, can be found in the following series:

  • World War II Operation Reports, 1940-1948 (Entry NM3-427A, NAID 305275), RG 407 Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1905-1981
  • Publications, Reports, and Translations (G-2 Library File), 1942-1952 (Entry A1 143, NAID 1223554), RG 554 Records of General Headquarters, Far East Command, Supreme Commander Allied Powers, and United Nations Command, 1945 – 1960
  • Publication Files (“P” File), 1940-1945 (Entry NM-84 79, NAID 1557240), RG 165 Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, 1860 – 1952
  • XL Intelligence Reports, 1941-1946, (Entry NM-54 19A, NAID 6056356), RG 226 Records of the Office of Strategic Services, 1919 – 2002.

Additional information about captured Japanese records can be found in the publication Japanese War Crimes and Related Topics: A Guide to Records at the National Archives.

This post is also featured on our Rediscovering Black History blog.

At the outbreak of World War I, William H. Hunt was serving as the U.S. Consul in St. Etienne, France.  In addition to his official duties, Hunt was also a true American pioneer.  In 1914, he was one of the very few African Americans serving in the Department of State, the Diplomatic Service, or the Consular Service in a professional capacity.  Even more notable, he was not serving at a post in the Caribbean or in Africa.

OPF.William H. Hunt_Photograph.1911

[Source: William H. Hunt, Official Personnel Folders-Department of State; Record Group 146: Records of the U.S. Civil Service Commission; National Archives, St. Louis, MO]

William Henry Hunt was born near Nashville, Tennessee on June 28, 1864, even as the American Civil War still raged.  He received his education in the public schools of Nashville, at the Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts, and spent one year at Williams College before entering the business world as a clerk for Price, McCormick Co. in New York City.  In 1898, he became a clerk in the U.S. consulate in Tamatave, Madagascar.  His professional career began with appointment as a vice consul at Tamatave in May 1899.  When the consul there, Mifflin W. Gibbs, resigned, he urged President McKinley to appoint Hunt in his stead.  The President and Department of State took that advice and Hunt was appointed consul at Tamatave in August 1901.  Hunt married Gibbs’s daughter Ida in 1904.

In 1904, Hunt sought transfer to a less remote post with a better climate and greater level of work.  Hunt was appointed as consul in St. Etienne and entered into service there in November 1906.  He remained in that city for over 20 years, until the U.S. closed the office in 1927.  In last six years of his career, Hunt held the following postings:

●Consul at Guadeloupe, May 1927

●Consul at St. Michaels, Azores, September 1929

●Consul and Second Secretary of Legation at Monrovia, Liberia, January 1931

●Detailed to the Department, August 1932

Hunt retired on December 31, 1932, and died on December 20, 1951.

123 H 911[42a[Source: Department of State to U.S. embassy Paris, January 15, 1927, file: 123 H 911/42a, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives, College Park, MD]

The fact of Hunt’s background was ever present in his personnel file.  The summary sheet of his serviced is headed “WILLIAM H. HUNT, of New York.  (Colored).”  There are also the following comments over time:

●1913: Mr. Hunt is a well educated colored man.

●1915: The only possible objection to him and the only obstacle in the way of his promotion to a more important post is the fact that he has negro blood.

●1921: The only possible objection to him is the fact that he has negro blood. . . . Good personality for a colored man.

●1921: Seems a very creditable member of his race.

●1923: For a colored man, Mr. Hunt’s personality in all respects deserves to be rated as excellent . . . were it not that his colored blood restricts his usefulness to certain posts and countries where no prejudice against such blood exists. . . . He should not be sent to a country where any race prejudice exists.

●1925: The fact that he has negro blood in his veins cannot but detract, however, from cultural standing; . . . . standing is greatly handicapped by the fact of his wife’s racial extraction which is more evident than in his own case.

●1926: The fact that he has negro blood in his veins cannot but detract, however, from cultural standing; . . . . standing is greatly handicapped by the fact of his wife’s racial extraction which is more evident than in his own case.

●1926: The Board will remember that Mr. Hunt is colored. [In reference to a new assignment.]

●1927: As the officer and his wife are colored, he is not very mobile and must be rated low as to post utility. . . . it is possible to assign him to only a limited number of posts.

When he went to Madagascar, Hunt already read, spoke, and wrote French.  After working in the French colony and in France for an extended period of time, Hunt became quite fluent with the language.  Indeed, he was so immersed that when he visited the Department of State on his first return visit to the United States in 17 years in November 1921, one official noted “that he has some difficulty expressing his thoughts in English.”

Hunt was not a standout performer.  His ratings varied over the years, generally in the fair/good range, but he sometimes came in for severe criticism for the small number of reports the lack of comprehensiveness in those he did submit, and a lack of initiative.   It was also noted that his reports were not very well written.  On the other hand, he was considered tactful, courteous, prompt, accurate, industrious, and generally made a favorable impression on the local population wherever he served.  He was quite prominent and popular in St. Etienne.

Sources: William H. Hunt, Official Personnel Folders-Department of State (NAID 3752654); Record Group 146: Records of the U.S. Civil Service Commission; National Archives, St. Louis, MO; Appointment Cards, file “2313″ in the 1906-1910 Numerical File (NAID 654171), and file “123 H 911” in the 1910-29 and 1930-39 segments of theCentral Decimal File (NAID 302021), all part of RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

I greatly appreciate the assistance of my colleagues Ashley Mattingly and Tina Ligon.

In January 15, 1958, Willard S. Irle, a member of the New York Stock Exchange sent President Dwight Eisenhower a letter with ideas about the preservation of world peace.  Irle suggested a “three-pronged program” consisting of the establishment of (1) a universal language, (2) a universal monetary system, and (3) a universal system of weights and measures.

President Eisenhower sent Irle’s letter to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, indicating that Irle appeared to be “a very serious fellow” and requesting that the Department of State “give him a thoughtful answer.”  The President specifically asked that Dulles’ deputy, Undersecretary of State Christian Herter “or somebody like that,” answer the letter.

Secretary Dulles forwarded the President’s note and Irle’s letter to Under Secretary Herter under cover of the following note:

John Dulles Mocks Himself


For those of you who cannot decipher the Secretary’s scrawl, it reads:

To C.A.H.

I could almost answer this myself – but perhaps my answer would not be consider[ed] by Mr. Irle to be “thoughtful”


Herter, signing as “Acting Secretary” in Dulles’s absence, responded on February 1, with a two-and-a-half page letter prepared in the Department’s Public Services DivisionThe letter thanked Irle for his “thoughtful comments and suggestions” and made the following points:

● the U.S. Government did not support a world-wide language program because of differences in educational systems and the problem of illiteracy around the world.  The letter did note, however, that the UN and private organizations were interested in the idea.

●the creation of a universal monetary system was problematic as evidenced by problems encountered by the International Monetary Fund in its work.  Nevertheless, the U.S. Government planned to continue working through the IMF to achieve that organization’s goals.

●noted that the U.S. had been participating in the activities of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures since 1878, and that organization’s primary objective was to promote standardization of the basic units of weights and measures.

Source: President Eisenhower to Secretary of State Dulles, January 20, 1958; Secretary Dulles to Under Secretary Herter, January 20, 1958; Acting Secretary Herter to Willard Irle, February 1, 1958 all in File 600.001/1-2058, 1955-59 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.  Irle’s letter was returned to President Eisenhower and is now on file in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Papers as President, Administration Series, Christian Herter (3).

I thank my colleagues Karl Weissenbach and Mary Burtzloff at the Library for their assistance.