Seeing our Nation's History at the National Archives

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by stvchin on September 17, 2009

The National Archives is the flagship of the National Archives and Records Administration. The National Archives holds the original copies of the documents that formed our country, the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights, as well as other significant documents in our nation’s history The National Archives is located between Pennsylvania Avenue NW and Constitution Avenue NW, and 7th Street NW, just south of the Navy Memorial. It’s just 50 or so yards south of the Archive-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro station.

The front side of the National Archives building is off Constitution Avenue NW, and the actual front entry for the exhibits is to the west of the stairs going up into the National Archives. The rear entrance is an entrance to the research library and is off Pennsylvania Avenue NW. We walked around to the front side on Constitution Avenue NW and got into line. After about 45 minutes wait, we finally found ourselves inside. We learned that since this is the 75th anniversary of the National Archives, there have been more visitors than usual, hence the 45 minute wait. After the obligatory security checks, wanding, and x-raying, we entered the lobby.

The lobby leads downstairs to all the exhibits. We headed for the main exhibit, the rotunda, which houses the Charters of Freedom, which are the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. Upon entering the Rotunda, there are signs everywhere informing us that we make take photos, but may not use flash. Even the lights in the rotunda is dimmed to protect the documents from decay due to the light. Just inside the rotunda area is a copy of the Magna Carta from 1627. As with all the documents in the rotunda, the Magna Carta is encapsulated behind protective glass with a special gas atmosphere to prevent further decay of the document. We got into another line to view the Charters of Freedom. The security staff informed everybody in line that there is no time limit, and it’s a self guided exhibit, but to be mindful of others who wish to view the documents, and again, we can take photos, but NO FLASH. Once it was our turn in the rotunda, we moved form document to document, they’re mostly hard to read, as they’re quite faded. Like the Magna Carta, they’re encapsulated in the protective glass with the special gas atmosphere. For those wanting to read what the documents say, there are printed texts of the documents on display next to them. We saw the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Louisiana Purchase, and some supporting documents that lead up to the Charters of Freedom. The rotunda itself is quite grand, with paintings of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the Signing of the Constitution, which hang from the granite walls of the rotunda. The Charters of Freedom are very awe inspiring, interesting and educational to see the documents our Founding Fathers personally signed over two centuries ago. It makes you realize how far we have come as a nation.

From here, we exited out the rear door into the lobby. We went to the Public Vaults exhibit, which had interesting exhibits on the history and workings of the National Archives and Records Administration, as well as interesting records of note. Most of the exhibits were user-interactive touch screen displays. They had exhibits on how the Charters of Freedom are housed and encapsulated for protection, on the other branches of the National Archives and Presidential Libraries, how records are categorized and stored. They had other interesting exhibits, such as digital copies of communication intercepts between Germany and Mexico during World War 1 in which Germany tried to open up another front against the allies by suggesting that Mexico attack the US southwest and Texas. The Public Vaults are an interesting and very educational exhibit for both adult and children alike.

We proceeded to the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery, which houses a special exhibit called "Big" for the National Archives’ 75th anniversary. Big is just that, large maps and artifacts on display. There were large battlefield maps, a large cross section drawing of the Titanic drawn by investigators shortly after it sank, a large copy of the tally sheet of the House vote to declare war on Japan after Pearl Harbor, and large printings of the Charters of Freedom. There were even large artifacts, such as a replica of a special bathtub custom made for President Theodore Roosevelt, and one of Shaquille O’Neal’s humongous basketball shoes, as well as many others. This exhibit is not only educational, sometimes oddly interesting, but fun as well.

There’s also the William G. McGowan Theater, which shows short films describing the history and workings of the National Archives and the history behind the Charters of Freedom and the history behind their housing and display. As we walked back upstairs to the lobby, we had to pass through the gift shop on the way out. You can purchase copies of the Charters of Freedom and other interesting curios at the gift shop. The National Archives is a very good educational experience for both children and adults, seeing the Charters of Freedom was a special experience for us, and the rest of the exhibits also really kept our interest, as we walked away with a lot of little tidbits of knowledge about our nation’s history we didn’t know before.
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, Nw
Washington, DC, 20408
(202) 357-5350

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