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From the Presidential Libraries: Hanukkah at the White House

Today’s guest post comes from Susan K. Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives.

Among the gifts from heads of state that are in the holdings of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum is a menorah presented to President Truman by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. The menorah dates back to at least 1767, when it was donated to a synagogue in Buergel, Germany.

The menorah was used in the synagogue until 1913, when it was found broken in pieces.  A man by the name of Siegfried Guggenheim asked for the broken pieces and provided a replacement. The Guggenheim family restored the old menorah for their personal use, and brought it to the United States when they immigrated in the 1930s.  Eventually, the menorah was acquired by the Jewish Museum in New York.

When Prime Minister Ben-Gurion visited the United States in 1951, he searched for a suitable gift to give to Harry S. Truman in light of the President’s recognition and support of the State of Israel.  The Jewish Museum suggested the menorah, and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion presented it to Truman on his birthday, May 8, 1951.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter participated in lighting a Hanukkah menorah on the Ellipse, just south of the White House.  Each President since then has commemorated Hanukkah at the … [ Read all ]

A night of music in honor of President and Mrs. Kennedy

The National Archives presents a musical tribute on December 3 in honor of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy’s commitment to the arts, celebrating their legacy of musical performances in the White House.

On November 13, 1961, Pablo Casals performed the Mendelssohn Trio in D minor at the White House.  Kenneth Slowik (cello), James Stern (violin), and Lura Johnson (piano) will present that program on Tuesday, December 3, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

“We wanted to honor the memory of President and Mrs. Kennedy with a special tribute to their outstanding commitment to the performing arts, and our William G. McGowan Theater is a wonderful venue to recreate the historic Pablo Casals performance,” said Susan Clifton, producer for Public Programs at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Following the performance, Kenneth Slowik, Artistic Director of the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society, will lead a discussion with Col. John R. Bourgeois, Director Emeritus, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band; Leslie Jones, Curator, White House Historical Association; and Edith Mayo, Curator, Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Pablo Casals, considered one of the greatest cellists of all time, was born in El Vendrell, Catalonia, Spain.  When he was invited to perform at the White House in 1961, he was living in Puerto Rico, where he had begun the annual Casals … [ Read all ]

Ten years after a call for help, Iraqi Jewish documents go on display

In June of 2003, the National Archives Preservation Programs received a call for help from Iraq. Sixteen American soldiers had found tens of thousands of documents and 2,700 Jewish books while searching in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters. The historic material was soaking wet.

And so Doris Hamburg and Mary-Lynn Ritzenthaler boarded a C-130 cargo plane and flew to Iraq.

“It was fascinating and exciting,” said Hamburg, Director of Preservation Programs at the National Archives. “We didn’t know quite what we were heading toward—but we were told everything would be fine.”

After Hamburg and Ritzenthaler arrived in Baghdad, they went to a warehouse on the banks of the Tigris River. Inside the warehouse was a freezer truck, and inside that truck were 27 metal trunks.

The trunks held masses of documents and books that had been submerged in four feet of water in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. And although the contents had been frozen to preserve them, Hamburg and Ritzenthaler could smell mold when they climbed into the truck.

“Freezing is a common way to stabilize materials when they become wet,” said Ritzenthaler, Chief of the Document Conservation Laboratory. “They acquired a freezer truck—it was quite a feat in those days in Baghdad to find a truck and to keep it fueled.”

The two women began … [ Read all ]

American Archives Month: Stacey Chandler, Kennedy Presidential Library

It’s been a great two weeks, but American Archives Month is coming to an end. We’re saying good-bye to the series with a stop at the hometown of the 2013 World Series Champions: Boston, MA.

Full name: Stacey Chandler

Occupation: Archives Technician for Textual Reference at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

How long have you worked at this library?

Five years total, including two years as an intern.

How/why did you decide to go into the archival field?

I interned in the archives at the Kennedy Library through graduate school, while trying to decide exactly what do to with my Public History degree. After two years working with the collections here, how could I choose to work in any other field?

What are some of your responsibilities at your library?

Mainly, I help researchers find and access documents on whatever they’re curious about in the life and times of John F. Kennedy. I also do tours and reference for the Ernest Hemingway collection, and keep on the lookout for preservation concerns, new books to add to the library, and chances to put cool documents in the spotlight.

What do you like best about your job?

The best part of my job is talking with all different kinds of people about history every day. The amazingly wide range of subjects people ask us about keeps … [ Read all ]

American Archives Month: Stacy Davis, Ford Presidential Library

We’re coming to the end of American Archives Month. This time, we’re heading back to the Midwest, up to Ann Harbor and Grand Rapids, MI. This Presidential Library belongs to a famous University of Michigan grad: Gerald Ford.

Name: Stacy Davis

Occupation: Archivist at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

How long have you worked at this library? 

Ten years, but I have worked 15 years for the National Archives.

How/why did you decide to go into the archival field?

I found the archives field by accident. While I was finishing my undergraduate degree in History at Central Michigan University, I found out about an internship at the John F. Kennedy Library through a flyer. I got the job, and from that point I was hooked on archives!

What are some of your responsibilities at your library?

I participate in a wide variety of activities at the Ford Library. I am the manager of the Library’s digitization program, the ARC point of contact, Specially Protected Materials control person, student employee supervisor. I help monitor the research room, accession new materials, sometimes process new collections, and provide reference assistance.

What do you like best about your job?

I think what I like best is the variety of things that I get to do, and the people I get to work with. On any given day, I could be working with newly … [ Read all ]