The Other National Archives

A Piece Of History For Another Day

Blatantly obvious: I adore history.  As I’ve alluded more than once in previous posts, I once squeezed in a trip to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. (see The Cracks That Matter from January 2021) when a couple hours needed to be burned before the Nationals took the field for the first time against the Florida Marlins, which is a piece of history for another day.  Compared to peak days, the queue into the stately structure on aptly named Constitution Avenue wound minimally into the building and in an entirely reasonable amount of time, I waited with a handful of strangers to be inspired by our nation’s most vivid history.

The docent reminded us of the policies listed on placards ahead of the entrance: no bright lights, no flash photography.  We must remain vigilant in the preservation of these physically fragile pages.  After reviewing all the policies and guidelines required of the eager visitors waiting to enter, we are promised only a few more moments wait.  Absorbing all her instructions, the small child ahead of me holds tightly to her father and softly asks him, “Is it because there’s a map on the back of it?”  Granted, she clearly was too young to understand the concept of “Charters of Freedom,” but apparently not too young to see Nicholas Cage movies.

My Treasure Hunt

While researching my college term paper (see Hidden Beauty from March 2012), twice I find myself at the National Archives – more specifically, the branch in College Park, Maryland.  No, it’s not as glamorous and there’s no queue, but it houses documents generated by the National Park Service.  I settle in to view hundreds of folders and thousands of items specifically related to Carlsbad Caverns National Park (see Changes In Rank from January 2013), and a few related to nearby NPS facilities.  There are photos and monthly reports and telegrams and details about the future plans, but I am specifically looking at files just prior to, during, and shortly after World War II.  Most are more than sixty years old, some are carbon copies (yes, they were actually created with sheets of carbon), and all entice me with their content.

Imagine the hands that have touched this piece of paper, this image, or this document. It’s not a scanned image on the Internet or a photocopy sent by snail mail.  No, these are original creations, and the requirements to come into physical contact with each item subject my personal property (sans digital camera and computer – even paper and pen) to lock up before I am able to obtain any files.  These aren’t the fragile parchments of our nation’s founding, and even more than their content, they are invaluable due to the chain of ownership and the select number of hands that have touched each item.  I leaf through them as if they contain a secret map on the back because they do: the path to the past.

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