National Archives Unveils Eyewitness Accounts in New Exhibition
Press Release · Tuesday, April 4, 2006

My Dear Wife it is with grate joy I take this time to let you know whare I am. I am now in Safety in the 14th regiment of Brooklyn. Thi s day I can address you thank god as a free man…
Letter from John Boston, fugitive slave, to his wife Elizabeth, 1862.

Promptly a few minutes before twelve I looked up from the desk and there stood Stalin in the doorway…
From President Truman’s personal diary, describing his first meeting with Joseph Stalin, July 17, 1945.

I cast one last look over my shoulder and saw in the President’s car a bundle of pink, just like a drift of blossoms, lying on the back seat. I think it was Mrs. Kennedy lying over the President’s body…
Transcript of Mrs. Johnson’s audio diary describing the events of November 22, 1963.

Washington, DC…These original accounts of watershed events in American history are part of a major exhibition entitled "Eyewitness: American Originals from the National Archives" opening in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC on Friday, June 23, 2006.

Treasures in the form of letters, diaries, photographs, and audio and film recordings, culled from the billions of documents in the holdings of the National Archives and its Presidential libraries, open new and unique windows onto well-known events. History books describe the slaves’ fight for freedom or the liberation of concentration camps at the end of World War II, but the power of the original accounts written or recorded by players in these dramas enable visitors to be transported back in time to these events, almost as if they are experiencing them firsthand. Lady Bird Johnson, former First Lady, wrote that she recorded the things she saw because she found her experience "too great a thing to have alone."

National Archives curator Stacey Bredhoff said, "The instinct to tell what we have seen is as old as humanity. The National Archives is filled with countless stories waiting to be shared. Within them lie embedded messages that enlighten us on what has gone before, and strengthen us for what may lie ahead."

The accounts featured in the exhibition chronicle some of the most dramatic moments in history: the storming of the Bastille in Paris during the French Revolution, the explosion of the Hindenburg, and the assassination of President Kennedy. Gripping and emotional, they capture the exuberance, grief, joy, panic, or chaos that characterized the events described.

Many of these accounts, never before exhibited, offer a fresh and surprising perspective on familiar events:

The King list’ned to every Word I said with Dignity but with an apparent Emotion—whether it was the Nature of the Interview or whether it was my visible agitation, for I felt more than I did or could express, that touched him I cannot say—but he was much affected and answered me with more Tremor than I had spoken with…
Letter from John Adams, America’ first Minister Plenipotentiary to Britain, describing his private audience with King George III, 1785.

She made her appearance in the room and she asked if this was the place where they registered voters. We answered her that it was. She said she was a citizen of the U.S. & demanded her right to be registered. I made the remark that I didn't think we could register her name. She asked me upon what grounds. I told her that the constitution of the State of New York only gave the right of franchise to male citizens. She asked me if I was acquainted with the 14th amendment to the constitution of the U.S. I told her I was. She wanted to know if under that she was a citizen and had a right to vote. At this time Mr. Warner said, ‘young man, how are you going to get around that. I think you will have to register their names’ - or something to that effect.
Testimony of Beverly Jones, election official, describing how Susan B. Anthony insisted on being registered to vote on November 1, 1872, 48 years before the Constitution guaranteed the vote to women.

Irritability is one of the first symptoms of starvation, and certainly that symptom was marked among us. We were all cross, irritable, and edgy; we argued about things that were utterly insignificant. We were ready to claw each other’s eyes out—over nothing at all. We were hungry; we were starved. When I went to bed at night, I felt just on the verge of screaming. I ached to the ends of my fingers and toes, with the most horrible ache that I have ever experienced.
Marie Adams, nurse for the American Red Cross, reporting on conditions inside an internment camp in the Philippines where American civilians were confined by the Japanese during World War II, 1945.

There is no way to really describe the emotions of the day…President Nixon looked just awful. He used glasses---the first time I ever saw them. Close to breaking down---understandably. Everyone in the room in tears. The speech was vintage Nixon—a kick or two at the press—enormous strains. One couldn't help but look at the family and the whole thing and think of his accomplishments and then think of the shame and wonder what kind of man is this really…
From George Bush’s diary entry for August 9, 1974, describing the Farewell Address of President Nixon at the White House (at the time, Mr. Bush was Chairman of the National Republican Committee).

Other eyewitness accounts in this upcoming multi-media exhibition include:

  • Report from Thomas Jefferson, U.S. Minister to France, July 19, 1789, on events of the French Revolution, including the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, and public beheadings in a public square in Paris;
  • Eyewitness account of Thomas Selfridge, a Navy Lieutenant on board the wooden frigate Cumberland, sunk by the Confederate ironclad Virginia, March 8, 1862;
  • Work notes of Alonzo Fields, Chief Butler in the White House, recording his observations at various White House social events during the Truman administration.

Other components of the exhibit include an Acoustiguide audio tour, offered free of charge, and a companion book that will be available for sale. This exhibition is the latest in the "American Originals" series that opened in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in 1995. It is the centerpiece of the city-wide summer 2006 cultural tourism initiative known as "American Originals." Eyewitness, which is free and open to the public, will remain on display in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Building through January 1, 2007. In the spring of 2007, the exhibition will begin a nationwide tour through 2008.

The National Archives is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW, and is fully accessible.

Exhibit hours are:
Summer Season
(Memorial Day Weekend [May 27-29] through Labor Day [September 4])
Daily 10:00 A.M. – 9:00 P.M.

Fall & Winter Seasons
(Day after Labor Day [September 5] through March 31)
Daily 10:00 A.M. - 5:30 P.M.
Closed Dec. 25

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For press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (202) 357-5300.


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