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Archive for 'National Archives Near You'

One fire, 5 days, and 381 men

Today’s post comes from Sara Holmes, supervisory preservation specialist at the National Archives in St. Louis. (The images below are from the National Archives at St. Louis, with a special thank you to Capt. Dave Dubowski of the Spanish Lake Fire Department and the late Chief Bob Palmer of Mehlville Fire Department.)

What happened after midnight on July 12, 1973, changed everything for the National Archives in St. Louis.

The fire was first sighted outside of 9700 Page Avenue. Minutes later, the first team arrived at the sixth floor of the building, only to be forced to retreat as their masks began to melt on their faces.

Multiple engines try to contain the fire.

Multiple engines try to contain the fire. Note the warping of the roof from the heat. Filing cabinets can be seen on the right. The center had to put out a call for people to return records that had blown away during the fire.

The Military Personal Records Center (MPR)—now known as the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC)—was a huge building. Hailed as an architectural wonder when it was built in 1956, the building was 1,596,332 square feet, second only to the Pentagon in size at the time. Two NFL regulation football fields would fit comfortably within each of its six floors with room to spare. It had no sprinklers in the records storage areas and few firewalls … [ Read all ]

Burned and brittle records are in good hands

Over 5,000 requests for veterans’ military personnel records are received every day at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO.

Donna Judd spends each day carefully searching for valuable information for veterans in the documents left burned and brittle by the 1973 fire at the NPRC building. She looks for separation documents so that veterans can get benefits, and she sifts through damaged files to find information for medals.

“One record could take 5 minutes, another record could take 5 hours,” she says.

The fire that swept through the sixth floor of the National Personnel Records Center on July 12, 1973, damaged and destroyed millions of documents. These records are needed—often urgently—by veterans in order to claim health benefits, receive medals, or secure a military burial.

As the fronts of boxes burned away, records spilled to the floor, providing further fuel for the fire.

As the fronts of boxes burned away, records spilled to the floor, providing further fuel for the fire.

When a request for a damaged record comes in, the file is pulled and then sent to a triage area where the Preservation staff assesses its condition. If the record is heavily damaged, it remains with the Preservation team. If it’s damaged but the information could be retrieved with care, the record will go to Judd.

An average of 200 to 250 records arrive in her office every week. Judd and another staff member, Jeannette Crowder, and three … [ Read all ]

Burnt in memory: Looking back at the 1973 St. Louis fire

This blog post is condensed from the article “Burnt in Memory,” by Marta G. O’Neill and William Seibert, from the Spring 2013 issue of Prologue.

By the time it was daylight on July 12, 1973, at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, one thing was painfully clear: the loss of records to fire and water was staggering.

The fire had swept through the top floor of the building just after midnight. At its peak, 42 fire districts were fighting it. The fire burned uncontrolled for more than 22 hours.

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The Military Personnel Records Center after the July 1973 fire. Vast numbers of personnel records for veterans from 1912 to 1963 were destroyed or damaged by fire and water.

About 73 to 80 percent of the approximately 22 million individual Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) stored in the building were destroyed. The records lost were those of former members of the Army, the Army Air Force, and the Air Force who served between 1912 and 1963.

Up on the sixth floor, reinforced concrete columns had sheared off, causing the roof to collapse. Metal shelving and metal filing cabinets were bent and twisted by the fire’s heat. Bricks of ash remained where cubic foot boxes of records once sat. Aisles between shelving rows were filled with debris up to three feet deep, and several … [ Read all ]

A wedding gift for (history) lovers

Today’s post comes from Christopher Abraham at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. He answers a question each week on Facebook. This week’s special, matrimonial edition of Ask an Archivist comes from the Netherlands, and we thought it would be fun to post it in honor of the Eisenhowers’ 97th wedding anniversary.

“My friends Jerom and Natasja are getting married and I would like to give them something special. Since they are both lovers of American history and trivia, I’d love to give them some unexpected knowledge. I am writing a large group of American museums to ask if they could send me an anecdote, a factoid or a bit of trivia that surprises their visitors when they tour the museum; something that makes them laugh, think or realize a connection to American history they hadn’t known before. Would you please send me a contribution as well?” – Lambert Teuweissen

Wedding gifts run the gamut from appliances to zeolites (always appropriate for the love-besotted mineralogist in one’s life), but the gift of historical knowledge? Genius!

We think this is the first time that staff have been asked to contribute to the launch of a happy marriage, but we are confident that we can meet the challenge. This might be the start of a wedding registry service for history lovers if it goes well!

While that remains … [ Read all ]

Congratulations to our 2013 Research Fellows!

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2013 Research Fellowships! Fellows will be doing research at six of our archival facilities across the country. These fellowships are funded by the Foundation for the National Archives.

The Textual Research Room in the National Archives in St. Louis

The National Archives at Boston
Claire M. Dunning,
a graduate student at Harvard University, will be doing research for “Neither Public Nor Private Yet Both: How the Nonprofit Sector Reshaped American Cities.” She will look at the nonprofit sector at the local level at the end of the 20th century and will trace the relationship between Federal funding and local nonprofit organizations.

The National Archives at Denver
James Jenks, the lead historian for Montana Preservation Alliance, will be working on “The Northern Cheyenne Homesteaders of Southeast Montana’s Tongue River and Otter Creek Valleys.” He will investigate the location and property ownership status of 46 Northern Cheyenne families who, during the late 19th century, homesteaded on traditional land located on the east side of the Tongue River and in the Otter Creek Valley in southeastern Montana.

The National Archives at Fort Worth
Susan Burch
is the Director of the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Middlebury College. For the final phase of her research project “Dislocated: Removals, Institutions, and Community Lives in American History,” she will … [ Read all ]