The Nation’s Sacrifice: The Origins and Evolution of Memorial Day

Today’s post comes from John P. Blair with the National Archives History Office.

Public Law 90-363 Monday Holidays

Uniform Monday Holiday Act, June 28, 1968. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

On May 28, 2018, our nation observes a federal holiday—Memorial Day—that was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on June 28, 1968, to take effect on January 1, 1971.

Yes, officially Memorial Day as a legal national holiday is only 50 years old.  The tradition, however, is much, much older and one that has developed over the last 200+ years.

Today I am exploring some of the history of the actual day, its original purpose, who was involved, some of the controversies over its founding, and how it has evolved.

John Alexander Logan is today credited with establishing Memorial Day. A Democrat from Illinois, Logan resigned his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1862 to volunteer to serve in the U.S. Army. He served with Michigan troops at the First Battle of Bull Run before returning to Illinois to raise a regiment of infantry. Continue reading

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The National Archives’ larger-than-life statues


Construction of the National Archives Building, close up of the structures created to house sculptures, December 1, 1934. (National Archives Identifier 79444223)

Do you want to learn more about the history and architecture of National Archives Building in Washington, DC? Join us online Thursday, May 24, 2018, at noon for a Facebook Live tour of the building’s exterior. For more information, follow us on Facebook!

On each side of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC (on Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues), sit two 65-ton statues. Each statue is more than 10 feet high and, with their bases, tower 25 feet above the sidewalk.

They were carved from 1934 to 1935, and each came from a single piece of Indiana limestone. The sculptors and carvers worked on site in temporary structures created for them.

Because the stones were so large and heavy, they had to be brought by train to Washington from Indiana on specially designed flat cars.


Rough block of stone from which one of the National Archives statues was carved, 1934. (Stone Magazine)

John Russell Pope, architect of the National Archives Building, used symbolism in all parts of the building, and these sculptures were no exception.

The two sculptures on the Pennsylvania Avenue, where researchers enter the building, are Future and Past. They are by Robert Aiken, who also designed the west pediment of the Supreme Court Building. Aiken was assisted by sculptor Attilio Piccirilli.  Continue reading

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Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo is on the “Border”

Today’s post comes from Jim Zeender, Senior Registrar in the National Archives Exhibits Office.


One of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo pages on display, 2/2/1848. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

Recently, National Archives conservator Morgan Zinsmeister and I traveled to Pueblo, Colorado, which once stood on the border between the United States and Mexico.

We were there to install the original Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in the “Borderlands of Southern Colorado” exhibition at the El Pueblo History Museum in Pueblo, Colorado.

On the two-hour drive south from Denver to Pueblo, we saw the snow-capped Rockies and Pike’s Peak. In Pueblo, we walked the streets and soaked up the atmosphere of the Old West.

The location itself added another level to understanding and appreciating the history that took place there. David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, makes the point better than I could when he said:

The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo is a milestone in American history that ended a war and reshaped our country.  We are honored to share this peace treaty with the El Pueblo Museum, built on the site of 1842 trading on this historic international border.

Continue reading

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President Johnson’s Impeachment Trial

Today’s post comes from Tom Eisinger, an archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. It is part two of a two-part series on the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, which occurred 150 years ago. 

Articles of Impeachment 1868 p1

Articles of Impeachment for the trial of Andrew Johnson, 1868. (National Archives Identifier 306274)

On March 4, 1868, the House of Representatives formally presented 11 articles of impeachment to the Senate, making Andrew Johnson the first President in the country’s history to be impeached.

Most of the articles of impeachment dealt with various issues surrounding President Johnson’s alleged violation of the Tenure of Office Act, although a few, like Article 11, did not do so directly. Article 11 accused President Johnson of declaring the 39th Congress unconstitutional because it was a Congress of only part of the states.

From the beginning, the trial garnered considerable public and press attention, aided by the Senate opening up the visitors’ gallery to the public.

Every day the Senate printed 1,000 tickets, usable only for that day, and members of Congress received hundreds of requests each day for these tickets. It was not until the final deliberations that the Senate closed the visitors’ gallery to the public.

ticket2a copy

Admission Ticket, Trial of President Andrew Johnson, 1868. (Records of the Supreme Court of the United States, National Archives)

Continue reading

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National Archives-Thai Friendship

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Visit the National Archives website for more information and related resources.

In March 2018, a new exhibit opened in Bangkok, Thailand, featuring more than 40 records and gifts from the National Archives. “Great and Good Friends: 200 Years of U.S.-Thai Friendship” runs from March 21 through June 30, 2018, at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. It highlights 200 years of United States and Thai friendship.

The National Archives itself has had a long friendship with Thailand.

In May 1955, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Plaek Phibunsongkhram, and his wife visited the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. They saw the Charters of Freedom in the Rotunda, met with school children, and viewed several historic documents related to Thai-U.S. relations. 


Thailand Prime Minister Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram and his wife visiting with children during their visit to the National Archives, May 5, 1955. (National Archives Identifier 74228921)

Continue reading

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13 Times the Presidents Were Just Like Us

May is National Photo Month, and to celebrate, we’re sharing photos from the National Archives showing that Presidents are people too! Today’s listicle comes from Anayeli Nuñez from the National Archives History Office.

1. When Clinton stepped out for a jog in this 90s monochromatic outfit. Iconic.


President William J. Clinton jogging, 3/3/1993. (National Archives identifier 2173290)


2. When Nixon tried getting as close as possible to the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives Rotunda.


Nixon, then-Vice President, visiting the National Archives Rotunda, 6/9/1954. (National Archives Identifier 74227947)


3. When they love their pets unconditionally.


4. When Nixon saw a piano and just HAD to play a tune.


President Richard Nixon Playing Piano at Blair House, Washington, DC, 6/23/1971. (National Archives Identifier 66394237)


5. When (future President) Truman sat with his boss President Roosevelt for some lunch and office gossipjust like us!


Senator Harry S. Truman at lunch with President Franklin Roosevelt, 8/18/1944. (National Archives Identifier 7865594)


6. When Bush could agree that the torch-lighting ceremony is always the best part of the Olympics!


President George W. Bush with Olympic Torch Bearer Liz Howell, 12/22/2001. (National Archives Identifier 7431391)


7. When Obama and Biden were each other’s favorite co-worker. #BestFriendGoals


Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, October 21, 2015. (Barack Obama Presidential Library, National Archives)


8. When Ford cherished those few minutes of silence reading the morning paper before the day began.

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President Gerald R. Ford reading a newspaper in the family kitchen, 8/20/1974. (National Archives Identifier 6829633)


9. When FDR threw this peace sign (victory symbol), unironically.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt Giving the Victory Symbol, 1937. (National Archives Identifier 31491234)


10. Siblings. Enough said. Wonder which Ford brother won best dressed in high school?

A3061-06A 600dpi scan from Original Negative

President Gerald R. Ford and His brother Dick Ford in the West Sitting Hall on the second floor of the White House, 2/2/1975. (National Archives Identifier 23898433)


11. When Lincoln needed multiple pictures before finding the right one to post.


Photograph of President Abraham Lincoln, ca. 1961. (National Archives Identifier 527825)

12. When LBJ met this baby and instinctively said “awe.”


President Lyndon B. Johnson visits first grandchild, Patrick Lyndon Nugent, born June 21, 1967, 6/24/1967. (National Archives Identifier 2803417)


13. When Obama stepped it up on the Hill AND on the Court. 


Barack Obama, then-Senator, enjoying a basketball game with U.S. military service members, 8/31/2006. (National Archives Identifier 6701817)






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The Washington Monument Collection and the Know-Nothing Party

Today’s post comes from John Lockwood, a long-time federal employee who has written numerous articles, many for the National Archives.


Concrete underpinning of the Washington Monument, undated. (National Archives Identifier 57359332)

I was recently downtown at the National Archives, looking for old records of the Know-Nothing Party, when they were in charge of the Washington Monument’s construction for a few years. I did find one interesting possibility, in Record Group 42, Entry 449, titled “Contributions at the foot of the Washington National Monument.”

How successful were the Know-Nothings in getting donations from visitors at this particular site? Not very, it would seem.

The Know-Nothings were an anti-Catholic political party of the mid 1850s, who answered “I know nothing,” when questioned about their activities. Continue reading

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UFOs: Man-Made, Made Up, and Unknown

Today’s post comes from Joseph Gillette, an archivist on a cross-training assignment in the National Archives History Office. This is the last in a series concerning the Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigation. Part I addressed the challenges the National Archives faced in providing access to the records. Part II addressed general Air Force investigatory and analytical procedures, as well as sightings resolved as natural occurrences. This final part addresses sightings resulting from human causes . . . and a case still unidentified.

Swan Lake, NY, 1965

On September 27, 1965, a college student from New York City was in Swan Lake, NY, when he saw an unusual sight. Upon receiving the student’s report, Air Force investigators completed a standard survey form to collect basic information about the sighting and provide an initial possible explanation (to fulfill confidentiality agreements, personally identifiable information [PII] has been withheld):


Continue reading

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UFOs: Natural Explanations

Today’s post comes from Joseph Gillette, an archivist on a cross-training assignment in the National Archives History Office. This is the second in a series concerning the Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigation.


Close-up photo of UFO in Redlands, CA, 1958. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

From 1947 to 1970, the United States Air Force conducted investigations into the increasing number of unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings throughout the United States. The purpose of the investigations was to assess the nature of these sightings and determine if they posed any potential threat to the U.S.

Three successive projects were created to carry out these investigations: Sign, Grudge, and Blue Book.

Blue Book was the longest and most comprehensive, lasting from 1952 to 1970. A 1966 Air Force publication gave insight into how the program was conducted:  Continue reading

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The Jefferson Memorial Turns 75

On Friday, April 13, 2018, the memorial dedicated to Thomas Jefferson—our third President and principal author of the Declaration of Independence—turns 75.


The memorial’s architect, John Russell Pope (1874–1937), was also architect of the National Archives Building. While Pope lived long enough to see the opening of the Archives, he died before groundbreaking for the Jefferson Memorial had even commenced. His partners, Daniel P. Higgins and Otto R. Eggers, had to take over the memorial’s construction. Continue reading

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