I saw a movie preview the other day for a blockbuster hit in which a treasure map is printed on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Having recently seen this document at the National Archives, I know first hand this is not true. In fact, the Archives have a photo of the actual back of the Declaration available on their extensive website, www.archives.gov.
The major draw of the National Archives is the aforementioned Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. All three are on display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in a brand new, high-tech display case. The new glass cases took over 5 years to design and contains argon, which does not react with the centuries-old parchment. An excellent 18-minute video explains the significance of the documents, how they were originally handled through the Revolution (hung in direct sunlight! gasp!), and the preservation techniques currently in place. Until the new cases were built, the national treasures were removed each night into bunkers built to withstand an earthquake or nuclear blast. How’s that for preservation!
Having recently been to Philadelphia and having visited Constitution Hall, the birthplace of the Declaration, I was very excited to see them in person. I was shocked to see the condition of this treasures-no fault of the archives, but the writing so clear in 1776 has faded almost beyond recognition now. It pained me to think my grandchildren may see nothing but blank parchment (if not for the trusty argon-infused cases!)
When you enter the Rotunda, there are more documents on display than just the
Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Preceding the Charters of Freedom are several documents that influenced their creation. Following are several documents that used them for interpretation, such as amendments, speeches by Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., and more.
The National Archives has just undergone an extensive remodeling, so several new exhibits were not yet open on our visit. The Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery will house an exhibit of candid photographs of our nation’s presidents. The Public Vaults will contain many original documents, pictures, photographs, and drawings crucial to the development of our country, scheduled to open November 12, 2004. Finally, the McGowan Theater plays the Preserving the Charters of Freedom film every 30 minutes, but also has many special presentations open to the public.
If you are planning a visit to the National Archives, check out their excellent website ahead of time for special events, exhibits, presentations, and to gather some background information before you go. Their website really is outstanding and can only add to the experience. The archives also has a research center-check the website for more info.
Hours:10am to 5:30pm everyday except Dec. 25 (Café closed Sundays)
Cost: See these priceless treasures for FREE!
Metro: Archives-Navy Memorial (7th and Constitution, one block off the north side of the Mall)