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Archive for July, 2010

Hottest Beard on Record

russell-beardIt’s Facial Hair Friday, and it’s been a scorching week in Washington, DC, at the National Archives. It’s going to reach 100 degrees today. So what can you do to cool off?

Perhaps you should gaze upon the fulsome beard of General David A. Russell of the Union Army.

Do you have such a long, rippling beard? Are you wearing a woolen Army uniform, buttoned up to the chin, in the middle of July? Are you fighting in the battles of Antietam, Fredricksburg, or Gettysburg?

Of course not.

Now, don’t you feel a few degrees cooler?… [ Read all ]

Thursday’s Photo Caption Contest


Thinking it was only a myth, the kids were surprised to find the world did actually end at the edge of town.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you have astounded your judge with your caption compositions. Words and phrases like “historical sub-context” and “ingenuity” were used. Also used was the word “shibboleth,” which I had to look up. For the uninitiated, it refers to “any distinguishing practice that is indicative of one’s social or regional origin,” and it was used in reference to Wendy Gish’s winning caption. Not only has she won the approving nod from our esteemed guest judge, but like all our winners, also won 30% off at the National Archives e-Store.

As to the actual caption related to this photo, no, the kids photographed did not arrive at the end of the world, but instead, they arrived upon a small stream. “In 1938, rare flooding in southern California severed a road, trapped an automobile and drew a crowd” according to the book Your Land, Our Land, which highlights the holdings of our regional archives.

This week we dug deep into the Archives to find another photo stripped of context just waiting for a caption to captivate our next guest judge. But who is our mysterious judge? Will he be able to use shibboleth in a sentence? In fact, he will. To find … [ Read all ]

Top 10 National Archives Web Sites

The National Archives is a behemoth of information.

There are 10 billion or so pages of documents and hundreds of thousands of reels of motion picture footage, all spread out among regional archives, Presidential libraries, and Federal Records Centers to name a few.  But the National Archives family is bigger than just that: we’ve also got the Federal Register and administer the Electoral College, along with the National Declassification Center and plenty of other organizations.

Because of this, navigating through the National Archives—digitally or otherwise—can get a little intimidating. That’s why we here at Pieces of History have put together a top 10 list of some of our favorite haunts in the digital world of the National Archives. By no means is this an official list, or a complete one, or an authoritative compendium/finding aid/compass to navigate the Archives. But it isn’t a bad place to start. Have a NARA website you love, but we missed? Let us know!

fr2010) The Federal Register. Admittedly, this might not look like much now, but FR 2.0, a private/public web site overhaul of the Federal Register, goes live on July 26 and will blow your mind. The sneak peeks show a sleek and user-friendly website that has finally harnessed the power of the contents of the Federal Register.  So what is the Federal Register? It’s the newspaper of … [ Read all ]

How the Boy Scouts won World War II


A poster from WWI uses the Boy Scouts to promote buying war bonds. In WWII, Scouts were responsible for distributing these types of posters (ARC Identifier 512598).

This year is the big centennial of the Boy Scouts of America. Thousands of young Scouts will gather together next week at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia to celebrate 100 years of scouting.

Sixty years ago, Boy Scouts were swarming the towns and cities of North America. But they weren’t camping or earning badges. They were working for the Federal Government.

With the men out in the battlefield, women were encouraged to fill positions in factories and fields. They were also faced with other challenges, such as rationed food. To help promote work and cooperation on the homefront, the Office of War Information (OWI) created informative and inspirational  posters to be hung in stores.

How could these posters be quickly distributed—and how could the OWI be confident that they would be put up?

Enter the Boy Scouts. In 1942 they had been in existence for 32 years. They were organized, recognizable, and a part of their communities across America.

The OWI quickly took advantage of this network, starting in October 1942 with a poster for Columbus Day. Every two weeks, thousands of new posters were distributed to 2,300 participating communities, and the Boy Scouts made sure they … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Daring escapes from Nazi prisons!

In honor of Bastille Day earlier this week, we present a French “moustache.”

This moustache decorates the face of General Giraud, here seen out walking in the gardens of the cliffside fortress Konigstein, where he was held as a POW by the Germans. He was captured in May of 1940 and escaped two years later. According to a 1949 Life magazine article, about 100 French generals were held prisoner. Giraud was the only one who escaped.

It wasn’t the first time Giraud had escaped imprisonment. He had served in WWI and broken free from an enemy prison then as well.

This time, he escaped a heavily guarded fortress. Because it was  patrolled at night, he escaped during the day “by climbing down a blind angle of the 150-foot wall, outside the range of vision of the permanent watchtower secretary and between the regular rounds made by other guards” (Life, 1949).

And where did he get the rope to rappel down a fortress wall?

It was made from “raw material . . . accumulated painstakingly from short pieces of twine used for tying prisoners’ parcels from France” stolen from the prison post office by “a courageous young French corporal” (Life, 1949). The bits of twine were then woven into a rope, 150 feet long and 22 inches think, with a piece of wood at … [ Read all ]