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Tag: guest blogger

Burnt in memory: Looking back at the 1973 St. Louis fire

This blog post is condensed from the article “Burnt in Memory,” by Marta G. O’Neill and William Seibert, from the Spring 2013 issue of Prologue.

By the time it was daylight on July 12, 1973, at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, one thing was painfully clear: the loss of records to fire and water was staggering.

The fire had swept through the top floor of the building just after midnight. At its peak, 42 fire districts were fighting it. The fire burned uncontrolled for more than 22 hours.

About 73 to 80 percent of the approximately 22 million individual Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) stored in the building were destroyed. The records lost were those of former members of the Army, the Army Air Force, and the Air Force who served between 1912 and 1963.

Up on the sixth floor, reinforced concrete columns had sheared off, causing the roof to collapse. Metal shelving and metal filing cabinets were bent and twisted by the fire’s heat. Bricks of ash remained where cubic foot boxes of records once sat. Aisles between shelving rows were filled with debris up to three feet deep, and several inches of water covered the floor.

Fire officials did not declare the fire to be out until July 16. There were no sprinklers or smoke detectors in the 1950-era … [ Read all ]

Application Denied!

Today’s blog post was written by Sam Rushay, a supervisory archivist at the Truman Presidential Library.

In the late summer of 1945, Frances Sarah Curtis of Mt. Rainier, MD, applied for a White House pass. Curtis, a Treasury Department employee in the Bureau of Public Debt (BPD), had worked in the White House File Room for 10 days in June before returning to the Treasury Department.

Perhaps hoping for a permanent White House job, Curtis applied for a pass.

The U.S. Secret Service conducted a standard background investigation of Curtis. She did not receive a White House pass. Two reasons were given. The first reason was because she owed $100 in unpaid tuition to the Wilcox College of Commerce in Cleveland, OH, where she had taken secretarial courses from 1937 to 1939.

The second, more damaging, reason was the presence of her name on the mailing lists of the American Peace Mobilization (APM) and the Current Events Club, formerly the Council Education Alliance. The investigators note in the report that these “groups are considered Communistic in nature.” She had also contributed money to the APM. And while there was no evidence that she had ever attended any meetings, there also was “nothing to indicate that she was not active” with these groups. Known Communists had attended these meetings, although evidence suggested that Curtis herself … [ Read all ]

Honoring the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”

Today’s post comes to us from Michael Hussey, education and exhibition specialist at the National Archives.(He’s also a speaker at tonight’s program!)

Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913. In honor of her centennial, “Public Law 106-26, An Act to authorize the President to award a gold medal on behalf of the Congress to Rosa Parks in recognition of her contributions to the Nation,” is on display at the National Archives until February 28.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks went as usual to her job as a seamstress.  By the time she returned home, her role as an enduring symbol of the African American civil rights movement had begun.

Seamstress Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus on December 1, 1955, after her day’s work. The driver ordered her to move to the back to make room for white passengers, in compliance with the state’s racial segregation law.  She refused, and her arrest sparked a successful boycott of Montgomery buses (led by 26-year-old minister Martin Luther King, Jr.) that led to their integration. Her courageous act at a pivotal moment in the American struggle for racial equality led some to name her the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

In 1999, Congress authorized President Clinton to bestow upon her its highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.  At the medal … [ Read all ]

A glimpse into the Civil War experience of Company F

Today’s blog post comes from Mary Burtzloff, archivist at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.

The black leather-bound journal had water stains and mold around the edges. It looked a bit icky, but the contents of the Civil War journal fascinated me.

One hundred and fifty years after our nation’s bloodiest conflict, we are  reminded of the lives and accomplishments of famous men like Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. The experiences of ordinary Americans (31 million or so who are not featured in films and books) are much more mysterious. What sort of people were they? How did they experience the war? George Boardman’s story helps me relate to those missing multitudes.

I began identifying Civil War–related holdings at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library as I worked on a proposed exhibit. Believe it or not, a 20th-century Presidential library may have records from the 19th (and even 18th) century, too!

My favorite find was the journal of George Boardman, a young man who served in Company F of the 22nd Maine Infantry from October 1862 to August 1863. Mrs. M. Hobart gave the journal to President Eisenhower in 1967. It is currently displayed in the exhibit “Civil War: Lincoln, Lee and More!” at the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kansas.

I researched Boardman’s life using digitized census and military records on Ancestry.com, Fold3, and … [ Read all ]

Getting Ike into the Loop

Today’s post comes from Christopher Abraham at the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

“I am a newspaper reporter and I would like to know if anything unusual happened during either of President Eisenhower’s inaugural ceremonies.” —Anonymous

 

Have you ever seen a U.S. President lassoed by a cowboy? It likely qualifies as “unusual!” General Eisenhower related this incident while describing the 1953 inaugural parade in his 1963 memoir, Mandate for Change: “A California cowboy, riding a highly trained horse, got clearance from the Secret Service, stopped in front of me, and threw a lasso around my shoulders.”

The “California cowboy” was none other than Montie Montana, motion picture star and rodeo rider. No one can say for sure what exactly was going through Eisenhower’s mind at the moment the lasso fell over his shoulders, but it might have been a severe bout of regret that the inaugural parade committee did not take up Mr. Montana’s earlier suggestion of simply presenting him and Vice President Nixon with their very own ten-gallon cowboy hats right there on the reviewing stand.

Hats for the inaugural ceremony, were, as it turns out, a topic of some consideration. Eisenhower favored a Homburg but was told that tradition dictated a silk hat. Eisenhower replied that if they should be so concerned with what happened in the past, “we could wear tricornered hats … [ Read all ]