Today’s post comes from Corinne Porter, a curator from the National Archives Exhibits Program in Washington, DC.
The Featured Document exhibit is the place in the National Archives Museum where we share—a document or two at a time—some of the most incredible records that belong to the American people.
Featured Document exhibits often commemorate landmark anniversaries or highlight records that provide historical context to current events or pop culture.
It’s also the space where we get to share the one-of-a-kind gems discovered in our stacks, like this clever memo penned by an anonymous bureaucrat many holiday seasons ago that is currently on exhibit.
Someone in the Office of War Information (OWI) News Bureau was certainly having a jolly old time on Christmas Eve 1942, when they wrote this memorandum concerning rumors flying around (by way of a reindeer-led sled) about a “man in whiskers who . . . will come down many chimneys bringing gifts to hundreds of American homes.
This tongue-in-cheek report from the OWI News Bureau, which administered information programs to promote the U.S. Government’s war policies and activities, was composed by staff to poke fun at their own bureaucracy. However, even the report’s light-hearted analysis of the “facts” about Santa Claus reveals serious concerns the U.S. dealt with during World War II, including morale, wartime shortages, and the preservation of the Allied alliance.
As a curator at the National Archives, I have the pleasure—and sometimes the challenge—of selecting exhibit items that will be displayed as Featured Documents from the incredible records in our holdings. With 13 billion pages of textual records housed in facilities across the country, I fortunately don’t always have to rely on my research alone.
I often draw on the expertise and sharp eyes of my National Archives colleagues for exhibit ideas and have included records discovered by archivists, other staff, volunteers, and interns at NARA facilities nationwide in many of the exhibits I’ve curated. Sometimes staff discoveries even inspire the exhibits themselves, as this “Santa Claus” memo did when I read a blog post written by NARA archivists a few years ago.
As a National Archives curator, some of the best gifts I’ve received have come in acid-free archival boxes delivered on carts driven by stack-coat-clad archivists. I’m thankful everyday for the assistance of my NARA colleagues in developing educational and engaging exhibits that sometimes even spread a bit of holiday cheer.
The World War II Holiday Humor: Office of War Information “Santa” Memo Featured Document is on display from November 30, 2017, through January 10, 2018, in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.