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Archive for January, 2011

Baseball and the 13th Amendment

January 31, 1865, was a busy day for the war-torn United States. The House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee was named general-in-chief of the Confederate armies.

On January 31, 1919—50 years to the day after slavery was abolished—Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia.

On April 10, 1947—82 years after the Civil War ended—Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball when he was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African American to play in the major leagues. He went to have a successful career in baseball and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. His number, 42, was retired in 1997.

After he retired from baseball, Robinson continued to fight for equal rights and treatment in other ways. The National Archives has some of his letters to politicians, including this letter to President Eisenhower.

Ninety-years after the 13th amendment was ratified, Robinson exercised his first amendment rights in the fight for civil rights.

Read more about Jackie Robinson and civil rights in two Prologue articles: “An Archival Odyssey: The Search for Jackie Robinson” (Summer 1997) and “Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson: A 1944 Court-Martial” (Spring 2008). To find out about baseball-related records in the National Archives, check out “Beyond the Box Score” (Spring 2006).… [ Read all ]

Edgar Allan Poe’s military career? Nevermore!

“Charge 1 . . . Gross neglect of Duty.”
“Charge 2 . . . Disobedience of Orders.”

On January 28, 1831, a court-martial convened at the U.S. Military Academy found the defendant guilty of these charges and “adjudg[ed] that the Cadet E. A. Poe be dismissed.”

So ended Edgar Allan Poe’s short career at West Point. He had been admitted to the academy on July 1, 1830, and nearly seven months later, he was out.

In those months, he accumulated an impressive record—though not of the sort to which a cadet usually aspired. The Conduct Roll for July–December 1831 lists the number of offenses committed by cadets and their corresponding demerits. Poe’s name appears about midway down the list of top offenders, with 44 offenses and 106 demerits for the term. The roll for January alone shows Poe at the top of the list with 66 offenses for the month. It would appear that Poe was trying very hard to get kicked out of West Point.

As an example of his neglect of duty, the charges listed his absences from mathematics class “on the 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25 and 26 January 1831.” Just two months earlier, a weekly class report had ranked him among the best students in mathematics. The Consolidated Weekly Class Reports are quite interesting to read. They list … [ Read all ]

Thursday’s Photo Caption Contest

Jan Wilson, it’s been a long wait, but you can now claim the honor of being our last captioner of 2010 and our first declared winner of 2011. President Truman was a practical (and frugal) guy, so why wouldn’t he be able to step up and give tips on Christmas tree gadgetry?

As far as we know, though, on the occasion on which this picture was taken, the lights on the National Christmas Tree went on just as planned. This picture from from the Harry Truman Library is dated December 24, 1945—it’s interesting that the lighting took place so late in the season.

For this new contest, we turn to another President. Inspired by the 50th anniversary of JFK’s inauguration this month, we resume the Thursday photo caption contest with a picture from the John F. Kennedy Library.

So now that we all have had time to recover from the holidays, get those brain cells working and give us your best so we can give you 30% off at the National Archives eStore. Start captioning right now in the comments section.… [ Read all ]

The National Archives–now in a novel near you!

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 people he met—did you recognize any of our … [ Read all ]

Have you hugged a squirrel today?

While poking around the web while I ate my lunch, I discovered that today is Squirrel Appreciation Day! I know many gardeners can’t stand the little beasts, and when we tried to grow tomatoes a couple of summers ago, I didn’t feel too friendly toward them, either. But usually I’m quite taken by these fluffy-tailed guys. And I’m not the only one—President Ronald Reagan used to feed the squirrels outside the Oval Office.

I love the way squirrels flick their tails when they’re agitated and chitter at you self-importantly from their safe perches far overhead. I can’t help but smile when they’re all fluffed up in winter or nod sympathetically when they’re draped across a branch, trying to cool off in summer. Way, way back, when I was a tiny thing, one of my favorite cartoons was even “Secret Squirrel.”

Squirrels also have an important job planting trees. They bury far more acorns and seeds than they can possibly uncover and eat, and the forgotten food then sprouts. They also won the sweepstakes when it comes to cuteness. Without that plume of a tail, they’d not look much different from their rodent cousin, the rat. But with the fluffy factor, they’re the subject of countless tourist pictures around the Mall here in Washington and elsewhere.

As soon as I found out it was Squirrel Appreciation Day, … [ Read all ]