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Archive for 'Authors on the Record'

The National Archives–now in a novel near you!

The National Archives Building. (Photo by Carol Highsmith)

The National Archives Building. (Photo by Carol Highsmith)

Brad Meltzer’s new mystery novel—The Inner Circle, the no. 1 bestseller on the most recent New York Times list—is all about the National Archives.

“I came to visit and I fell in love. Truly,” Meltzer says in an interview about the book in the forthcoming issue of Prologue, the quarterly magazine of the National Archives.

“Lost history, secret documents, long-forgotten letters from Presidents and other big shots—all of which tell the true history of our nation. How could a history nut not fall in love?”

In The Inner Circle, an Archives staff archivist discovers an unusual document in a very strange place that leads him to some surprising revelations about the government. But while the story is fiction, the setting is not. To research The Inner Circle, Meltzer, who had always walked by the National Archives Building in downtown Washington, DC, while researching other novels, finally came in from the cold and shadowed staffers in many of the Archives’ divisions.

“I was most amazed by the fact that you still have people combing through documents from the founding of our country,” he says. And yes, he says, he’s more appreciative of the work people do to understand and keep safe the nation’s documents.

Have you read The Inner Circle? Meltzer says he was inspired by the … [ Read all ]

The hours before Dallas

Kennedy greets a crowd at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, on the day of his assassination (ST-525-8-63)

Kennedy greets a crowd at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, hours before his assassination (JFK Presidential Library, ST-525-8-63)

In November of 1963, to seek support for New Frontier policies and with an eye on the 1964 elections, President John F. Kennedy set out on what was planned as a two-day, five-city tour of Texas.

Well before the President departed for Texas, advance men were dispatched from Washington to make on-the-scene preparations. Among them was Jeb Byrne, who had been serving as a political appointee in the General Services Administration since the Kennedy administration began in 1961.

Byrne, a ten-year veteran of wire service journalism who more recently had been press secretary to a Democratic governor of Maine, was assigned to Fort Worth. His mission was to make sure that the President’s stay in Fort Worth went off without a hitch.

In an account written for Prologue, the author relates how the President spent his time in Fort Worth. Byrne also details the challenges he faced as the Fort Worth advance man in making logistical arrangements, handling requests for access to the President, and navigating the shoal waters of the then-dominant Texas Democratic party.

Byrne draws his account in part from papers and other materials he kept from his duty in Fort Worth. He has donated those materials to the John F. Kennedy Library in … [ Read all ]

The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy’s Art During World War II

Ilaria Dagnini Brey is the author of The Venus Fixers, an account of the Monuments Officers, who were assigned by the Allies to preserve and protect the artwork and monuments of Europe from looting and destruction. She is the featured Author on the Record for the Fall 2010 issue of Prologue. We invited her to do a guest post on a document from the National Archives that inspired her. Enjoy!

The Venus Fixers

Iliaria Dagnini Brey


Soldiers at work in the Temple of Neptune at Paestrum. National Archives, Record Group 239.

Soldiers at work in the Temple of Neptune at Paestrum. National Archives, Record Group 239.

I found this photograph one afternoon at the National Archives at College Park after hours of searching through folders, albums and boxes of images. It made my day.

What struck me most about the photograph was the combination of the military and the religious element in it—soldiers in a shrine, albeit an ancient one—and the resulting peaceful atmosphere of the image. The soldiers are intently at work and look almost like school students during study hall. The massive Dorian columns of the Greek temple seem almost protective of their quiet activity.

At first I thought, how clever to set up an office, as it were, in the cool shade of those ancient stones; and I thought how beautiful, that soldiers from overseas could feel so at home among some of the most ancient ruins of … [ Read all ]

Bring your big stick to “The Jungle”

Final page of a letter from Upton Sinclair to President Teddy Roosevelt (Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture)

Final page of a letter from Upton Sinclair to President Teddy Roosevelt (Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, RG 16)

It was 1906 when Upton Sinclair made the world vegetarian, at least for a little while. Sinclair’s novel riled the United States and its President, Teddy Roosevelt, by revealing the unsanitary conditions under which food was made.

Since 1879, over 100 bills had been introduced to regulate the food and drug industry. It only took five months after the release of The Jungle for one of those laws to pass. On June 30, 1906, President Roosevelt signed into law the Pure Food and Drug Act, effectively creating the Food and Drug Administration.

Roosevelt had read an advanced copy of The Jungle. But almost before he finished reading it—barely a week after its first publication—Sinclair was peppering the President with letters and recommendations on how to regulate the industry. Roosevelt was sympathetic to Sinclair’s desire to regulate the industry but despised the man’s zealotry. In an April 14, 1906, speech loosely aimed at the author, he described “muckrakers” as the men who cause more trouble than they cure. “Tell Sinclair to go home and let me run the country for a while,” Roosevelt said to Frank Doubleday at a later date. In a letter to journalist William Allen White later that summer, … [ Read all ]

Swiss you were here!

This story on Discovering the Civil War appeared on the front cover of the Culture section of Switzerland's largest newspaper

This story on "Discovering the Civil War" appeared on the front cover of the Culture section of Switzerland's largest newspaper

The New York Times called it “engrossing and eminently fascinating.” The Richmond Times Dispatch said “Discovering the Civil War” “isn’t your typical Civil War retrospective.” And the Neue Zurcher Zeitung called the National Archives’ newest exhibit, “einer grandiosen Ausstellung in Washington.”

Wait . . . was that German?

Yes, DCTW isn’t just making a splash in the United States, it’s big in Switzerland, too, and even got a mention in Der Spiegel, Germany’s largest paper.

Such international reviews only underscore part of what DTCW tells us about the Civil War: that it was an international affair. From the Confederate envoys sent to Europe to secure the blessing of the Pope to Chinese blockades of Confederate goods and ship raids by the CSS Alabama off the shores of South Africa, the Civil War was not just a domestic dispute.

Part one of “Discovering the Civil War” runs through September 2010. Part two, “Consequences,” opens November 2010.… [ Read all ]