Yesterday a room of sharply dressed archivists, librarians and book conservators burst into laughter at a joke about mildew. They’re a funny bunch, these keepers of our national record, excited by different things than you and I. When they mention the billions of records, of which only a sliver has been digitized, currently stored in limestone caves in Lenexa, Kan., their eyes light up like deep-sea explorers contemplating the ocean. They all have stories to tell.
Stories like the time they found a trove of Walt Whitman documents written while he was a clerk in the Attorney General’s office. They were forgotten documents, which were only identified by a scholar who recognized the handwriting and made the connection. Or the photo unearthed of FDR standing beneath the newly laid keel of the USS Arizona in 1913, while the then-secretary of the navy was touring the Brooklyn Navy Yards. The same ship, of course, whose destruction in Pearl Harbor 28 years later would lead to arguably FDR’s most famous speech, and with it a declaration of war. As with any explorers, when they talk about the often serendipitous thrill of discovery, their enthusiasm is infectious. Read More