Rotunda Reopens to Visitors After Pandemic Hiatus
By Victoria Macchi | National Archives News
WASHINGTON, July 2, 2021 — The National Archives is opening its doors a bit wider this month, as the museum expands its hours of operation and begins welcoming visitors daily for the first time in more than a year.
The public will now be allowed to view the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights in the Rotunda every day from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. starting July 2. They will also be able to see the Magna Carta in the David M. Rubenstein gallery.
“It is exciting that people are so eager to be back in our museum,” said Lee Glazer, Director of the Museum Programs Division at the National Archives.
The National Archives began the reopening process with limited hours on weekends in May before extending hours in June and again in July. It was closed for much of the past 16 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Georgia resident Sandra Gerald brought her children to the Rotunda last month during an East Coast trip that focused on history. The family drove three hours from Philadelphia to Washington when they secured tickets for the National Archives.
"Yesterday, they saw where the documents were created. And today, they are seeing the original documents,” Gerald said.
“It's magnificent every time,” she told National Archives News. “I'm an attorney, so to me, the Bill of Rights is just a huge, huge, huge thing. And I'm a defense attorney. I represent indigent criminal defendants. So this is what my life is about. And this is what [my children] know my life is about. So it's very special.”
To allow visitors the time and space to view the records while remaining socially distanced, the National Archives Building continues to limit access to 25 percent of capacity. That means about 80 people pass through the Rotunda an hour.
For visitors with tickets over the July 4th weekend, a special display of General Order No. 3 will be up through July 5. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued the order on June 19, 1865, informing the people of Texas that all enslaved people were free. National Archives staff readied a space for the document to be shown temporarily when President Joe Biden announced the designation of Juneteenth as a new federal holiday last month.
Glazer’s team scrambled to get the order on display quickly.
“It really showed what a great team of professionals we have working at the museum who can respond to current events in real time, and also just how excited everybody is to make our materials available to the public again,” the museum director said.
Visitors interested in seeing both documents in person will have another opportunity during a special exhibit in the East Rotunda Gallery from November 19 to 21.
General Order No. 3 was digitized and added to the National Archives Catalog in 2020. Read more about how that happened in National Archives News.
In addition to the National Archives Building, other museums in the National Archives network around the country are partially reopening. Additional details about museum hours and tickets are available on Archives.gov.
(Digital Asset Management Specialist Susana Raab contributed to this article.)