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Behind the Scenes: Treasure Trove

A peek inside the National Archives.

Inside the National Archives. Photograph by Ron Blunt.

At the most mundane level, the National Archives is just that—a storage facility where a small percentage of federal documents and other materials are sent, for legal or other reasons, to be kept for posterity. But scratch the surface and it’s a trove of amazing treasures that has captured even Hollywood’s imagination, as in the hit film National Treasure.

Visitors from all over the world flock to the Archives’ main building to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Also under lock and key, and not for public view, are items that were used in the Warren Commission investigation into John F. Kennedy’s assassination, including the clothing the President and his wife wore that day.

Behind the scenes in a special lab, experts restore precious documents and objects to secure their longevity for generations.

In this photograph, conservators examine 18th- and 19th-century illustrated family records known as “frakturs.” In the foreground are conservation technician Daniel Dancis and senior conservator Morgan Zinsmeister, and behind them is senior conservator Annie Wilker.

On the table to the right of Dancis and Zinsmeister is the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812; behind that is the Jay Treaty of 1794, a contract for peace between the US and Great Britain, also called the Treaty of London.

Beguiling to us, but just another day at the office for the protectors of the nation’s treasures.

This article appears in the May 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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