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You won’t see this in the Monuments Men movie

As the recently-opened movie Monuments Men plays around the country, there’s one macabre story you won’t see on the silver screen.

It’s about the remains of German leaders, including Frederick the Great and Frederick William I.

The Germans had hidden the caskets containing the bodies of the Fredericks and former Weimar President Paul von Hindenburg and his wife in a mine in a remote area to conceal them from the approaching Russian troops. But the war ended, and U.S. troops made it to the mine first and found the caskets. They were in a room divided into different compartments hung with brilliants flags.

Capt. Walker K. Hancock, an officer specialist with the Monuments Men, described the scene: “Crawling through the opening into the hidden room, I was at once forcibly struck with the realization that this was no ordinary deposit of works of art. The place had the aspect of a shrine . . . all suggested the setting for a modern pagan ritual.”

Naval Reserve Lt. George Stout, one of the foremost experts on art conservation, later described the casket in an oral history interview with the Archives of American Art in 1978. In the movie, Clooney’s character is based on Stout.

Along with the caskets were treasures from the Hohenzollern Museum in Berlin, including items used at the 1701 coronation of King Frederick … [ Read all ]

Monuments Men Coming to the National Archives

A new movie due for release next month tells the story of a special unit of Allied soldiers in Europe at the end of World War II. They were charged with finding and savings works of art and other cultural artifacts that the Nazis had seized.

Officially, this unit was called the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives (MFA&A) section, but unofficially, they were the Monuments Men. But you don’t have to wait until the movie, also called Monuments Men, is released to learn about them. Greg Bradsher, a senior archivist and a specialist in this period in history, tells one story of the Monuments Men in the latest issue of Prologue magazine.

Bradsher is a frequent contributor to Prologue and an archivist specializing in World War II intelligence, looted assets, and war crimes.
In his article, Bradsher provides an account of how U.S. soldiers found a cache of treasures and called in the Monuments Men.
The most unusual find was a group of four caskets—with the remains of Frederick the Great, Frederick William I, and President Paul von Hindenberg and his wife. What happened to them? Bradsher has the answer.

The movie has an all-star cast: Oscar winners George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett as well as Bill Murray and John Goodman. Clooney directs and is one of the producers. The film … [ Read all ]

Amending the Constitution: 100 Days to 200 Years

The Constitution hasn’t changed much since it was adopted in 1787.

However, it has been tweaked by 27 amendments—some were ratified in a few months, another took more than two centuries.

The ink on the Constitution had barely dried in 1787 when people discovered what it did not say. It did not spell out adequately, they argued, the individual rights that citizens of the United States had under the Constitution.

So James Madison, the “father of the Constitution” and a member of the House of Representatives from Virginia, went to work.

The result: 12 amendments. They were approved by Congress in late 1789 and sent to the 13 states for ratification, which, then as now under the Constitution, required three-quarters of the state legislatures or constitutional conventions.

Twelve? Yes, but only ten (originally numbers three through 12), known to us all today as the Bill of Rights, were approved. It took 811 days to ratify those ten, and they became part of the Constitution on December 15, 1791. Each December 15, we observe Bill of Rights Day.

The proposed first amendment, dealing with congressional apportionment, has never been ratified. The proposed second amendment, dealing with congressional pay, was approved by the Michigan and New Jersey legislatures on the same day in 1992—more than 202 years after Congress submitted it to the 13 states. By 1992, … [ Read all ]

Eight myths about the Constitution

Constitution Day is September 17. We’ve got events, programs, and activities at National Archives locations across the United States.

Pundits, candidates, and party activists like to cite the Constitution of the United States as the moral and legal backing for whatever they’re proposing. Or they say that something an opponent proposes is unconstitutional.

But the Constitution is silent on a lot of things you probably thought it said. Here are eight examples.

The President can veto a proposed amendment to the Constitution.

No. He has nothing to do with the amendments. Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds vote of both houses, or a Constitutional Convention can be called by a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures. However, once the amendment is proposed either by Congress or a convention, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Only one amendment, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition (the 18th Amendment), was ratified by conventions in the states.

The “Founding Fathers” who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are the same men who wrote the Constitution in 1787.

Only five individuals signed both of these two founding documents. They were George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger Sherman. Some of the famous signers of the Declaration were elsewhere when the Constitution was being written. Thomas Jefferson was in France … [ Read all ]

At Gettysburg: Brother v. Brother

Today’s post comes from our summer intern Caroline Isleib.

The Battle of Gettysburg raged 150 years ago today, and many lives were lost or forever changed by the Civil War. It was a war that ripped our country apart and, in quite a literal sense, pitted brother against brother.

“This was never more true than in the case of Wesley Culp and Jack Skelly, two young men who grew up together in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,” writes Jay Bellamy in the latest issue of Prologue, the National Archives quarterly magazine.

Both young men chose to enlist when the war began, but these best friends gave their allegiances to different forces. Culp, who had just moved to Virginia, joined the Hamtramck Guards, which became the Second Virginia Infantry in the Confederate army. Skelly joined the Union’s Second Pennsylvania Volunteers and later the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry.

From prisoner of war camps and hospital infirmaries to battlefields, they frequently came into contact with one another throughout the war. In June 1863, Culp visited Skelly as he lay in a Confederate hospital, due to injuries incurred in battle. There, Skelly asked if Culp ever went back to Gettysburg, and, if so, would he pass along a letter to his sweetheart and their childhood friend, Jennie Wade.

“Within just weeks, remarkably, he had the chance,” Bellamy writes, for Culp was part … [ Read all ]