News & Politics

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

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

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.