This week I was in Kansas City visiting two of our three facilities in the area. The limestone caves at Lenexa hold both temporary and permanent records of Federal agencies in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska including the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, the growing collection of records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs is housed there. An amazingly creative use of naturally climate controlled space to protect the Nation’s history.
Among the many archival records at the Central Plains Region facility in downtown Kansas City are the inmate case files of the United States Penitentiary—Leavenworth. 68,937 files covering July 1895 when the prison opened through 1952 are now open for research and document some of the most notorious federal prisoners in history. The files include Robert Stroud–aka the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” George “Machine Gun” Kelly, boxer Jack Johnson, labor leader “Big Bill” Haywood, gambler Nicky Aronstein, and polar explorer Dr. Frederick Cook. And some not so notorious prisoners including Lizzie Cardish, a 15 year old convicted of arson in Wisconsin; Lothar Witzke a German spy convicted of the Black Tom Island explosion of 1916 in New York Harbor which damaged the Statue of Liberty; and Samuel Caldwell, who we believe was the first Leavenworth prisoner to be convicted of violating the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937!… [ Read all ]
Iodite of potassium, sulphate of iron, nitrate of silver, rice starch, ferro cyanite of potassium, and even lemon juice. These are some of the ingredients necessary to reproduce the secret writing techniques described in the six documents declassified by the CIA last week as part of the work of the National Declassification Center (NDC). The Center was established within the National Archives at the direction of the President in late 2009 with the mandate to review more than 400 million pages of classified records by the end of December 2013.
The job is difficult and complex because a single document can contain classified information drawn from several agencies, and each one of these agencies may have its own standards for classifying and declassifying documents. The process has benefited from having representatives of the agencies at our facility in College Park, Maryland, so these referrals and decisions can be made quickly.
The review process has very much been driven by user demand. The prioritization of records to be reviewed was established after public meetings and online review by the user community. The results are posted on the NDC website.
So far the news is good. More than 84 million pages have passed the quality review process, the first step. Of the 14.5 million pages which have been fully reviewed, 91% were declassified and made available … [ Read all ]
On Sunday, I was honored to provide the keynote address for the Next Century Convocation at MIT, the institution which launched my career and shaped my worldview. I shared my thoughts on MIT’s striking founding vision and how pervasive its influence has been over the last 150 years, even in unexpected places.
MIT’s motto is “mens et manus”, Latin for “mind and hand.” It embodies the educational philosophy of William Barton Rogers and the founders of MIT. Their original proposal to create MIT, Objects and Plan of an Institute of Technology, addresses itself to “…manufacturers, merchants, mechanics, agriculturists, and other friends of enlightened industry in the Commonwealth.”
So where did William Barton Rogers get his inspiration?
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “A man is known by the books he reads…” Rogers was a geologist by training but a look at his personal library gives one a sense of the range of his knowledge, interests, and attitudes toward the approach to education outlined in the Objects and Plan.
In 1975, when the MIT Alumni Association was celebrating its Centennial, a colleague and I had the opportunity to prepare an exhibit based on our yearlong effort to identify and reassemble the founder’s original library. Working from a crude inventory in his own handwriting and with a lot of time at the shelves of all of the MIT Libraries, … [ Read all ]
A test of a nation’s commitment to transparency and self-government comes in how it explains to succeeding generations the more difficult or controversial moments of the past.
Watergate is one such moment in our nation’s history — and a topic that is now more fully explored at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
Last week, I attended the opening of the Watergate Gallery at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. The new permanent exhibit chronicles the events beginning in June 1971, with the leak of the Pentagon Papers and the formation of a clandestine White House group known as the Plumbers, and ends with former President Richard Nixon’s public explanations of Watergate after he left office. The exhibit is designed to help visitors make sense of the web of personalities as well as the actions and intentions at the heart of the Watergate scandal.
A portion of the new Watergate Gallery at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
The Nixon Library arguably holds the fullest record of any Presidential administration in history with approximately 4,000 broadcast videos, 4,500 audio records, 30,000 gifts, 300,000 photographs, 2 million feet of film, 46 million pages of documents, and 3,700 hours of presidential conversations known as the “White House Tapes.”
The new exhibit on Watergate uses documents and records from Presidential, Congressional, and Special Prosecutor’s records as well … [ Read all ]
You may think that the National Archives is an unlikely place to learn the secrets of Michael Jackson’s dance moves — but you’re wrong!
Within Record Group 241, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, patent 5,255,452 gives us the secrets behind one move in particular — Michael’s “lean” as done in the music video, “Smooth Criminal.” *
On October 26, 1993, Michael Jackson was granted his patent for a “method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion.” The application abstract describes the patent as:
“A system for allowing the shoe wearer to lean forwardly beyond his center of gravity by virtue of wearing a specially designed pair of shoes which will engage with a hitch member movably projectable through a stage surface. The shoes have a specially designed heel slot which can be detachably engaged with the hitch member by simply sliding the shoe wearer’s foot forward, thereby engaging with the hitch member.”
Figure 6 (above) and Figure 7 and 1 (both below) are drawings from Michael Jackson’s patent application. The images below shows the slot on the heel of the shoe, as well as the straps used to secure the ankle for Michael’s “lean” dance move.
At the National Archives, researchers can explore patent drawings and patent applications online and in person at our College Park, MD facility.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to sit down with Peter Wood, professor of history, emeritus, at Duke University to talk with him about his recent book, Near Andersonville: Winslow Homer’s Civil War. The book tells the story of Winslow Homer’s remarkable Civil War-era painting, Near Andersonville.
In the following video, Peter describes how the painting came to be in the private collection of the family of a teacher, Sarah Kellogg, who lived on the Sea Islands in South Carolina and taught liberated slaves during the Civil War.
Peter relied on the records of the National Archives to tell the story of Near Andersonville. At the end of the interview above, he describes the Union Troops’ failed attempt to liberate the prisoners of Andersonville. The captured soldiers are pictured in the painting. In the slideshow below, you will find the July 26, 1864 letter from General Stoneman to General Sherman requesting permission to try to release the prisoners. He says, “Now is the time to do it before the Rebel Army falls back and covers that country – and I have every inducement to try it.”
A portion of the July 26, 1864 letter from General Stoneman to General Sherman
Also from the National Archives, is the pension application from Winslow Homer’s brother, Arthur Homer, indicating that he had served on … [ Read all ]
Two weeks ago, the San Jose Sharks came to visit the National Archives for a behind-the-scenes tour on their day off in Washington before playing the Capitals. As professional athletes go, they had plenty of interest in our records — especially the declassified 1930′s contingency plan to invade Canada!
As you may know from a previous blog post of mine, one of my favorite quotes is from Wayne Gretzky:
“I skate to where the puck is going to be,
not where it has been.”
Now, more than ever, adapting this mindset will help us transform the National Archives. This approach will help us innovate in order to address the changing needs of our customers — the Federal agencies, White House, and Congress we serve as well as the American public.
The way we do our work today was envisioned in the earlier part of the 20th century when the format of choice was paper. In order for us to fulfill our mission in the 21st century, we need to reexamine our theories and practices to take advantage of the tools enabled by this technological age. We need to develop the skill sets that will move us beyond our current capabilities, as we continue our basic job of collecting, protecting, and providing access to the records of the Government.
I want to thank you, Jack, for visiting the National Archives recently to discuss your book, On American Soil: How Justice Became a Casualty of WWII.
Your book is a powerful example of the importance of the records of the National Archives. You tell the story of Private Guglielmo Olivotto, an Italian POW who was murdered at Seattle’s Fort Lawton. How did you first learn of Private Olivotto’s story?
In 1986, while a young news reporter, I attended a dreadful public hearing at Seattle’s Discovery Park, the former site of a large US Army installation called Fort Lawton. The hearing–about the proposed expansion of a sewage treatment plant adjacent to the park–was dull as dishwater. Sensing my boredom, a park employee mentioned a mysterious World War II headstone in a remote Fort Lawton cemetery. As I soon discovered, it was the grave of Italian prisoner of war Guglielmo Olivotto, still interred on American soil decades after his August 14, 1944 death at age 33. I was stunned to learn that 43 US soldiers–all of them African-American–eventually stood trial charged with rioting and with Olivotto’s death by lynching. After a year of research, we aired a television documentary about that astonishing trial.
After your September 1987 documentary, “Discovery Park Graves,” what made you doubt the story and prompt you to research it further?
The largest oil spill in U.S. history gripped the nation’s attention for over three months this past summer. On May 22, 2010, President Barack Obama announced the creation of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The Commission’s goal: “to learn the essential lessons so expensively revealed in the tragic loss of life at the Deepwater Horizon and the severe damages that ensued.” The President charged the Commission to determine the causes of the disaster, to improve the country’s ability to respond to spills, and to recommend reforms to make offshore energy production safer.
The records contained within the National Archives are very often used as primary sources for learning the lessons of our national experience. In the case of the Deepwater disaster, the crisis demanded even more than National Archives records — it also needed the expertise and experience found in a NARA staff member.
Jay Hakes, the director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, was named the Director of Policy and Research for the Commission.
Director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum
Jay was tapped for this six-month assignment because of his extensive background in energy matters. During the Clinton Administration, Jay was head of the Energy Information Administration where he oversaw the collection and dissemination of America’s official energy data … [ Read all ]
On Tuesday, January 17, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his farewell address to the American people, where he warned of the growing power of the “military-industrial complex.”
On Friday, January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address to the American people, where he charged, “…ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
It was a big week for Presidential speeches.
Many Americans were inspired by these speeches. During their Presidencies, I wrote letters to President Eisenhower and President Kennedy. My letter to President Eisenhower was inspired by a class project where I had to write a report about his trip to India – my first experience with reading The New York Times! My letter to President Kennedy was inspired by his “proposed Peace Corps.” Even as Archivist of the United States, I never imagined that I would be able to see these letters again. I have learned that you should never underestimate what an archivist can find! On my visits to Presidential Libraries, I have seen both of my letters.
The records at Presidential Libraries help tell the story behind these two speeches. I hope you take a few minutes to watch the following videos that help explain the evolution of the speeches through the drafts and notes found within the records … [ Read all ]
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