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Archive for 'preservation'

A homecoming for six pages of parchment

Although the National Archives Building was nearly completed in 1935, the Rotunda sat empty.

Then, on December 13, 1952, an armored Marine Corps personnel carrier made its way down Constitution Avenue, accompanied by two light tanks, four servicemen carrying submachine guns, and a motorcycle escort. A color guard, ceremonial troops, the Army Band, and the Air Force Drum and Bugle Corps were also part of the procession. Members of all the military branches lined the street.

Inside the personnel carrier were six parchment documents. The records were in helium-filled glass cases packed inside wooden crates resting on mattresses.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were going to the National Archives.

In 1926, $1 million was appropriated for a national archives building, and in 1930 President Hoover appointed an Advisory Committee for the National Archives to draw up specifications for the building. John Russell Pope was selected as architect, and a year later, ground was broken. By 1933, the cornerstone of the building had been put in place by President Herbert Hoover. Staff were working in the unfinished building by 1935.

But despite this flurry of activity, the vault-like building did not house the founding documents that we call the “Charters of Freedom.”

The documents had been shuttled around to various buildings for various reasons. They started out in the Department of State, and as the capital moved from New York to Philadelphia to Washington, DC, these documents moved too. Eventually … [ Read all ]

Thursday Photo Caption

Last week’s image may have sparked some of our best captions yet! Apparently a giant roll of paper makes our readers think of their experiences in the National Archives research room, Twitter, and toilet paper at the State Department.

But it reminded us of another enormous rolled document featured on Pieces of History: a 1954 petition from Hawaii. And so we asked conservator Morgan Zinsmeister, who worked on that outsized record, to choose a winner.

Congratulations to Jill! Morgan thought your caption was the one we should preserve as the winner.

So what is really happening here? It turns out we made the right connection in thinking of Morgan and his Hawaiian petition. This photograph is from the “Historic Photograph File of National Archives Events and Personnel, 1935–1975,” and it shows Archives employee Kay Brewington examining a large petition. (We admire her ability to crouch gracefully in that dress and those shoes!)

Today’s photograph also shows a woman hard at work under the glare of a bare lightbulb—but what is she teaching? Give us your best caption in the comments below!

 … [ Read all ]

Waiting All Night for a Look at History

Americans are used to waiting in line for things they really want: tickets to a rock concert, a World Series game or a controversial new movie, for example.

At the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, this week some people  waited all night for a brief look at one of the nation’s most historic documents — the Emancipation Proclamation. 

The Proclamation was on display for 36 hours in conjunction with the showing at the museum of NARA’s “Discovering the Civil War” exhibit, which is on display there through September 5, before moving on to Houston and Nashville.

The Emancipation Proclamation, part of the National Archives’ holdings,  is displayed very infrequently and for short periods because of its fragile condition, which exposure to light can worsen, and the need to preserve the document for future generations.  On display in Dearborn were only two of the five pages and a replica of the front page; the document is double-sided.

With this historic document on display, the Henry Ford Museum got one of the biggest turnouts ever.  The 36 hours began at 7 p.m. Monday, June 20, and ended at 7 a.m. Wednesday, June 22.

Press accounts reported that there were waits of up to six to eight hours, some of it in the rain. 

The line was so long, according to Kate Storey, a museum spokesman, that it had to be cut off at … [ Read all ]

It’s a bird, it’s a beard, it’s Audubon!

If you are planning to attend our event next week on crowdsourcing, you will hear a presentation by Jessica Zelt from the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Bird Phenology Program.

My colleague here in the office was editing the text for this event. She thought her husband, an avid bird watcher, might be interested in the “Bird Phrenology Program,” so she e-mailed him the description she was editing.

He e-mailed her back, saying “I think it’s phenology, not phrenology.”

Yes, phenology is the study of recurring life and plant cycles. Phrenology is the highly questionable Victorian practice of using the shape of skulls to intepret personality traits.

Editing for a living has many such dangerous pitfalls.

I like to look at this picture of John James Audubon, whose paintings made American birds into works of art, and imagine him feeling the skull of a woodpecker and then making pronouncements like “This bird suffers from melancholia, quickness of temper, and an overabundance of mirth.”

Perhaps there is a phrenology for beards that we could apply to Audubon?

Do the sideburns indicate standoffishness? Does the lack of mustache indicate a deficiency in calculation and therefore “an inability to understand the most simple numerical relations.” Perhaps his lack of chin covering betrays a lack of tunefulness?

In honor of crowdsourcing, I must pass on these deep questions to you, my phrenological … [ Read all ]

Aloha treatment for a 1954 Hawaii petition

The work the National Archives Preservation staff does every day is hardly “everyday.” A recent post about Hawaii’s petition for statehood on the Preservation Program’s Facebook page demonstrated this fact. This preservation project stemmed from a request from our Center for Legislative Archives. Each archival unit creates annual and long-term preservation plans, and the Center’s list named several petitions to Congress. One of these presented a challenge—a massive wooden spool 68 inches wide containing a roll of paper 16 inches in diameter.

This mammoth petition contains the names of 116,000 supporters of Hawaii statehood. Hawaii had been annexed by the United States in 1898 and became a U.S. Territory in 1900. Attempts at statehood over the next 60 years met opposition from both native Hawaiians and Congress. In the 1950s, the statehood movement gained momentum, and Hawaii became our 50th state on August 21, 1959.

This giant scroll came to the National Archives by way of the U.S. Senate. The Governor of Hawaii had presented the petition to the Vice President of the United States, who then (as President of the Senate) brought it before the Senate on February 26, 1954.

As an official document of the U.S. Senate, it eventually came down the street to the National Archives. It had been stored in a safe place, but over the years, the exposed outer … [ Read all ]