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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 ]

Keeping It All Together: Paper Fasteners at the National Archives

Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

In my reflective moments, I think about what has kept me here at the National Archives for all this time. It couldn’t be the bone-wearying monotony of shuffling heavy cartons of records from here to there, or the tedium of changing out old information systems and learning the vagaries of new ones. No, there’s something else that gets me in the door every morning. Fasteners.

There is a seemingly endless variety of shapes and constructions to be found among the fastener family. Here are some that the author saved.

You wouldn’t think that something so trivial would hold my attention for any length of time. And yet, paper fasteners play such a vital role in our daily lives here. Consider: when researchers open boxes of records, they will see the telltale signs—the double round holes centered at the tops of the documents, the pinprick perforations in the corners. And many fasteners are still doing their duty among the records now.

It is a canon of archival preservation that fasteners are the devil’s work; capable of doing lasting and disfiguring damage to their host’s integrity, they must be removed, and forthwith. And so they are. Textual processing staff at all National Archives facilities do this every day. Perhaps gazillions of … [ Read all ]

“I am a little country boy eight years old.”

Today’s guest post is from Sherri DeCoursey, who used the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library to find a special piece of history for her father.

Forest Delano Roosevelt Ferguson holds his prized possession: a photo of FDR and a letter from the President's secretary.

For as long as I can remember, a photo of FDR and a letter have hung side-by-side in the den of Mom and Dad’s home.  The yellowed letter, written by FDR’s secretary Missy LeHand, was in response to a letter my father wrote the President in 1941. My dad—Forest Delano Roosevelt Ferguson—was eight years old in 1941. Dad will be 80 in June of this year.

Letter from Missy LeHand, FDR's secretary, replying to the letter sent by 8-year-old FDR Ferguson

As familiar as that letter and the President’s photograph were to me, what I had never even pondered until last year was what my father wrote in his letter to FDR.

While visiting my parents in the fall of 2012, I looked at the framed letter and photograph and asked Dad what he included in his letter to the President. He couldn’t recall the details. Who could after 72 years? I continued to ponder what my father as a boy might have written.

What would an eight-year-old Forest Delano Roosevelt Ferguson write to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Perhaps about school? … [ Read all ]

New York State of Mind–er, Archives

I’m beginning to wonder if we even covered the Civil War at all in AP History. Before joining the National Archives, I had never heard of the Battle of the Crater, did not know that Confederate ships sailed all over the world, and had no idea that the Civil War had a draft and you could get out of it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Did you know that the National Archives is also in New York City?

As my colleague Rob and I attempted to find the entrance on Varick Street, we weren’t too sure it was there. The Archives at New York is in a big building that houses other Federal agencies, including a detention center. We finally found the correct door, got through security, and made our way upstairs.

Staff are excited about their move to the Alexander Hamilton U. S. Customs House. It’s an accessible, welcoming space near the departure port for Ellis Island, with room for exhibits. Imagine going to Ellis Island, getting inspired about your family history, and then stopping by the Archives on your way home to do some free research at the National Archives!

But for now, you can do that at Varick Street. We met with Christopher Zarr, who gave us a tour of the classroom, exhibit space, and microfilm reading … [ Read all ]