Now Showing: George Washington Carver on Kodachrome

One of our Motion Picture Preservation Lab staff identified a remarkable film in a recent accession of audiovisual material from the National Park Service (NPS). The film features amateur footage of George Washington Carver, the famed African-American botanist and inventor who taught for decades at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama. During his time at Tuskegee, Dr. Carver published forty-four bulletins for farmers covering many agricultural topics, with the most popular being How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption.


The film was shot in 1937 by Dr. C. Allen Alexander, an African-American surgeon from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Dr. Alexander wrote a letter in 1981 offering the film to the George Washington Carver National Monument in Missouri, part of the NPS. The letter explains the provenance of the film in detail:

From your knowledge of the history of this great man [Dr. Carver], you know that he was a very private individual, who did not permit publicity concerning himself, and as a consequence would not permit any commercial firm to make any movie scenes of him or his work.

In 1937, his assistant [Dr. Austin W. Curtis], his closest associate, persuaded him to permit some private individual to make some short movie sequences of him. I was asked to do this by Dr. [Curtis]. I spent some time at Tuskegee and was fortunate enough to make a few sequences, totaling about 15 minutes.

This was made just at the time the Kodak Co. released color film for amateur photographers and fortunately they came out in excellent condition. These original film scenes I sent to Kodak Co. for treatment for preservation; I have them stored in my bank vault.

Thanks to the care given by Dr. Alexander, and later the NPS, the film is indeed in excellent condition. Though many of the earliest Kodachrome films suffer from severe color fading, the stock used for this film was manufactured once Kodak had perfected the Kodachrome chemistry. We see color that is as vibrant as the day it was processed.

The film includes scenes of Dr. Carver in his apartment, office, and laboratory, as well as images of him tending his flowers and displaying several of his paintings. At one point we see Dr. Carver exiting an elevator that was installed as a gift from his friend Henry Ford. Other notable people appearing in the film are Dr. John Chenault, the orthopedic surgeon and polio doctor who served as director of the Infantile Paralysis Unit at Tuskegee’s John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital, and Carver’s assistant Dr. Curtis.

Dr. Alexander turned his camera on the raw materials that Dr. Carver used in his work. We see “the red clay of Alabama, the bales of cotton, the saw mill with great piles of saw dust.” Also included are shots of a Tuskegee Institute football game, along with a show put on by the school’s marching band and majorettes, sporting satin uniforms of crimson and gold.

This film was not Dr. Alexander’s only contribution to the preservation of history. In 1987 he began an oral history project documenting social change in western Michigan. This collection, consisting of 150 hours of recordings, may be found at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Dr. Alexander also published several volumes, including an autobiography, transcripts of his oral history project, and a book based on interviews with other African-American physicians.

Posted in African American History, Motion Pictures | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Looking Back at the Korean War Veterans Memorial Competition

As Memorial Day 2018 approaches, we thought it would be appropriate to draw attention to a unique series in our Still-Picture Branch, RG 117-KDS, which covers a competition that took place in the 1980’s to design the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

In 1986, the American Battle Monuments Commission was authorized to build a war memorial honoring United States veterans of the Korean War, which took place between 1950 and 1953.  A competition to design the war memorial, to be located in Washington D.C., was established in collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers, and saw over 500 submissions sent in for deliberation.  Out of those 500+ submissions, three submissions were awarded a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place designation.  Reflecting upon the upcoming National holiday, I decided it would be interesting to highlight those submissions, as well as another I found particularly powerful.

My Pick:

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While going through each of the color slides, I came across a design submitted by Pamela Humbert.  This design is based around a reflecting pool, featuring bronze maps of major phases of the Korean War, and is flanked with four rectangular monuments and four statues of veterans.  I felt the organization of the monument was fluid, meaningful, and an effective way to memorialize and honor the sacrifice of our veterans.  Kudos to Pamela!

Now for the official place winners.

3rd Place:

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The submission that took 3rd place was submitted by Mark P. Fondersmith, and features a design centered around the charge of the South Korean flag, called the Taeguk, which symbolizes balance.  Surrounding the Taeguk centerpiece, in the memorial, are other symbols and statues meant to honor and remember the veterans who fought in Korea.


2nd Place:

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The 2nd place submission was designed by Ronald C. Nims and uses the 48-star flag (remember, Alaska and Hawaii weren’t states until 1959!), as well as a curving stone structure, as the focal point of the memorial.  The curving stone structure was designed to “symbolize the tremendous struggle against overwhelming odds.”  The memorial design also features three reflecting pools and a plaza allowing for large gatherings.


1st Place:

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The 1st place designation was awarded to the team of John Paul Lucas, Veronica Burns Lucas, Don Alvero Leon and Eliza Pennypack Oberholtzer.  Originally projected to feature 38 soldiers adorning the path between the entrance and the plaza, the final product created controversy, as the designing group claimed their original submission was significantly altered by the company that was awarded the building contract — As it stands today, the memorial features 19 stainless steel statues representing two columns of ground troops, advancing in a triangular pattern, including 14 Army, 3 Marine, 1 Navy and 1 Air Force members.  It’s located at the National Mall, across from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and near the Lincoln Memorial.

For those planning on being in the Washington D.C. area for Memorial Day, I recommend making the Korean War Veterans Memorial a stop in your itinerary.  This year, the National Memorial Day Concert will honor Korean War veterans Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura and Joe Annello.




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On Finding Rabindranath Tagore

This post was written by Tisha Mondal and Judy Luis-Watson. Tisha is a National Archives Volunteer and Judy is the manager of Volunteer and Education Programs at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941). His words are as meaningful in the 21st Century as when he first wrote them.

“Music fills the infinite between two souls.” –Rabindranath Tagore

Federal records and poetry – what could possibly be the connection? How might Rabindranath Tagore—an Indian (Bengali) writer and poet, educator, musician, and visionary—have crossed paths with the federal government of the United States?

Tagore being world-renowned improved the likelihood there might be federal records related to him. Many saw Tagore as a bridge builder between the East and West, and his world travels, especially several visits to the U.S., suggested there might be a connection. Controversy over his support for an India free from British colonial rule offered another clue. The records of several government agencies reveal even more about Tagore’s complex relationship with the West, especially the U.S. where he was beloved in some circles and viewed with suspicion by others.

The photographs of Tagore in Paris, circa 1930, are part of a huge collection the United States Information Agency (USIA) acquired from the Paris Bureau of The New York Times. The Prominent Personalities file includes photographs of Tagore (RG 306, NAID 2830620).

Photographs from the New York Times Paris Bureau (NAID 2830620). Translations of original French captions by volunteer Judy Koucky.

Tagore’s earliest visit to the U.S. in 1912 followed the first publication of his poetry in Chicago’s literary journal Poetry that year. Six “free verses” of his devotional poetry were translated from his work Gitanjali (The Offering of Songs). Many years later, during the 1961 centenary celebrations of Tagore’s birth, President Kennedy quoted a “majestic verse” from Gitanjali that “might serve as today’s universal prayer.” It was included in a draft copy of his letter to be read at the centenary celebrations in New York City. The letter is preserved in USIA’s India: Action Messages, Tagore file. (RG 306, NAID 72053874)

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth….

Draft of President Kennedy’s letter for the centenary celebration of Tagore’s birth. (NAID 72053874)

During that seven-month visit in 1912, Tagore spent time with his daughter-in-law and son Rathindranath Tagore who was a student at the University of Illinois and an active member of the Urbana Unitarian congregation. Tagore’s regular meetings with local Church members and students, and his famous Harvard lecture series established long-lasting ties with communities in the U.S., where Tagore Societies soon sprung up to study his work.

Finding mention of Tagore in the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service was a surprise. Because of the special relationship between Tagore and the Unitarian Church of Urbana, his interactions with the Church are included in the nomination materials of the Church submitted in 1991 to the National Register of Historic Places (RG 79, NAID 28891794). This Church was the first religious center at the University of Illinois to accommodate international students (including Tagore’s son) whose religions were Christian and non-Christian. These attendees became known as the Unity Club. Educators and students in Urbana who drew inspiration from Tagore’s poetry, music, and art, became known as the Tagore Circle.

Between 1912 and 1930, Tagore visited the U.S. five times, traveling from coast to coast and receiving a warm welcome. In 1913, Gitanjali was translated and published in England in its entirety. Being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature that same year propelled Tagore onto the world stage. He literally became a man of the world, traveling, lecturing, and raising funds for the famous, unconventional educational institution he founded 93 miles from Calcutta, Santiniketan (Abode of Peace). Tagore Visits the United States and Tagore and America are two publications that were prepared for the 1961 centenary celebrations in English, Hindi, and Bengali by U.S. Information Services (USIS) as the local overseas posts of USIA were known. (RG 306, NAID File 6087550)

Front cover and second page of Tagore Visits the United States, a 1961 USIS publication.
(RG 306, NAID File 6087550)

Front cover and pages 10-12 of Tagore and America, a 1961 USIS publication.
(RG 306, NAID File 6087550)

Records created by the War Department, Military Intelligence Division between 1918 and 1947, include biographies of leaders, politicians, and significant people such as Tagore. From the undated, typewritten draft, we learn that the close circle of friends referred to Tagore as “spiritual master,” and Mahatma Gandhi as “great soul….”  Tagore’s “Nobel prize money, his royalties…, and the revenue of his estates were all made gifts to this school [Santiniketan].” (RG 165, NAID 3431609)

Biography file for Rabindranath Tagore,
Records of the War Department (RG 165, NAID 3431609)

The publications and multimedia programs created in 1961 for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tagore provide a glimpse into the depth of his popularity and esteem as well as a perspective on U.S. foreign policy. Private organizations across the U.S., like the Asia Societies, Tagore Societies, and university-affiliated literary groups began planning for the centenary activities two years earlier. Faculty and administrators from universities across the country who were members of The Rabindranath Tagore Centenary Committee in America. included American University, Georgetown, Howard, Yale, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

During the Cold War, when India was a “non-aligned” country, these centenary activities were embraced by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) responsible for the public image of the U.S. abroad and the overseas USIS posts. Because of Tagore’s significance to Indians and Pakistanis, the centenary celebrations became fair game for the U.S. to compete with the Communist bloc for “psychological leadership.” The file, India: Action Messages, Tagore can be found in the records of the Department of State (RG 59, NAID File 72053874).

56918821_001_031Memo concerning the need for the United States to position itself prominently in Tagore’s centenary celebration (NAID File 72053874).

Two days of a week-long program commemorating the memory of Tagore sponsored by the Asia Society of New York were recorded by Voice of America (VOA) for distribution overseas. “Robert Frost on Tagore” is part of a treasure trove of VOA audio recordings housed at the National Archives at College Park. (RG 306, NAID 122176; 306-EN-J-T-3601) John D. Rockefeller, III, opened the large public meeting by reading letters from Prime Minister Nehru and President Kennedy. Robert Frost then speaks informally, with a sense of humor and deep appreciation for Tagore’s work.

 “Robert Frost on Tagore” (306-EN-J-T-3601, NAID 122176)

Even during World War I, politics and international intrigue enveloped Tagore when his name became associated with the Hindu-German Conspiracy trials in San Francisco. The British Secret Service uncovered plots in the U.S. by Germans and Indian Nationalists conspiring against British rule in India, which were in violation of the U.S. neutrality laws. National newspapers reported in early 1918 that secret papers purported to show Tagore enlisted the help of Japanese statesmen in establishing an independent India and the plot implicated such luminaries as Tagore.

A handwritten letter and cablegram from Tagore to President Wilson in early May 1918 are preserved in the records of the Department of State. (RG 59, NAID File 83577575) Tagore calls for protection against the prosecution counsel’s “lying calumny.” He explains his thinking on patriotism and honesty and assures the President that the hospitality he received in the U.S. “was not bestowed upon one who was ready to accept it while wallowing in the subsoil sewerage of treason.” A letter from the Department of Justice to the Department of State in August 1918, ends with, “When Preston [the prosecution counsel] was on here he told me that Tagore was not in any way implicated in the plot….” (RG 59, NAID File 83577575)

Handwritten letter from Tagore to President Wilson. (RG 59, NAID File 83577575)

Cablegram from Tagore to President Wilson, and the Department of Justice’s letter to the State Department about the situation. (RG 59, NAID File 83577575)

During World War II, when Paris fell in June 1940, Tagore sent a telegram to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the handwritten draft of which was published in Tagore and America. It is a plea to the President and the United States. (RG 306, NAID File 6087550)

Today, we stand in awe before the fearfully destructive force that has so suddenly swept the world. Every moment I deplore the smallness of our means and the feebleness of our voice in India so utterly inadequate to stem in the least, the tide of evil that has menaced the permanence of civilization.

All our individual problems of politics to-day have merged into one supreme world politics which, I believe, is seeking the help of the United States of America as the last refuge of the spiritual man, and these few lines of mine merely convey my hope, even if unnecessary, that she will not fail in her mission to stand against this universal disaster that appears so imminent.

Less than two years later, the U.S. entered World War II after Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941.

In 2011, the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth was marked by the publication of The Essential Tagore, the largest anthology of his work available in English. It was a collaboration between Harvard University Press and Visva-Bharati University.

Many thanks to Netisha Currie, Billy Wade, and Carol Swain for their technical assistance with the records.

This post was updated 5/24/2018 to include additional documents.

Posted in Audio Recordings, Photographs | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Memphis Belle: The 75th Anniversary of the 25th Mission

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab.

The statistics were overwhelmingly against them.  With a million German troops and 40,000 anti-aircraft guns waiting the odds were roughly 50-50 they’d make it home alive.  Completing 25 bombing runs lowered those odds to less than 25%.  Not to mention that casualties of the 8th Army Air Forces would exceed those of the entire US Marine Corps during WWII.

The nose of the Memphis Belle, in a photo from our holdings (342-FH-3A-6272) and a still from the restored outtakes.

But, as a crew of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress you didn’t think about those odds.  You did your job just as the crew of the Memphis Belle did.  On May 17th, 1943 they were one of the first to complete 25 missions without being shot down.  As heroes – congratulated by royalty, awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses, and immortalized on film – they were rewarded by crisscrossing America selling war bonds with Stuka, their Scottish terrier mascot.

Over fifteen hours of film shot by William Wyler and his cinematographers documenting the plane and her crew resides at the National Archives.  While Memphis Belle: Story of a Flying Fortress  has been widely available, the raw footage of the victory tour and much of the footage shot in England and over Germany has not.  Wyler served as a major in the US Army Air Forces between 1942 and 1945 making the Memphis Belle film and Thunderbolt.  During filming, cinematographer Harold Tannenbaum was killed while flying over enemy territory; Wyler suffered from frostbite and lost his hearing for months after being on bombing runs.

In honor of the 75th anniversary NARA partnered with Vulcan Productions and Creative Differences to digitally preserve the outtakes and revitalize the stories and experiences of 8th Army Airmen in The Cold Blue, a new documentary directed by Erik Nelson.  The original Kodachrome was scanned by NARA staff in 4K resolution using our Spirit scanner.  While the color of the originals remains beautiful, the film has shrunken over time, requiring careful handling and slow scanning speeds to avoid damage.  In total, it took 80 hours to scan the reels and generated over 80 TB worth of data.

To create the 72 minute long documentary, Nelson used the archival footage from Wyler’s outtakes along with some original footage shot in Berlin during July of 1945.  The footage has been restored by Ernest Savage and Paul Marengo.  Nelson interviewed nine 8th Army Air Force Veterans for the project and spent four days flying in an original B-17 bomber with sound designer David C. Hughes of Skywalker Sound, using up to eighteen microphones for recording.  The original film itself is respected as a character – frame lines, archival markings, a jittering camera, sprocket holes and edge codes make their appearance as an authenticating archival force. The Cold Blue uses the original footage and accounts of veterans to illustrate the complexity of the missions, highlight the camaraderie of the crew, show appreciation for the ground crews, and to explore their thoughts on the events as they occurred, and looking back seventy-five years later.

An added benefit to this project is that Nelson was able to use footage from the original outtakes to reconstruct Wyler’s Memphis Belle: Story of a Flying Fortress. The surviving copies of the film are not a good representation of the film that was shown in 1944, so utilizing NARA’s 4K scans, he has painstakingly reassembled Wyler’s film with vibrant color.  Over 500 individual shots were perfectly positioned over the final soundtrack heralding a new kind of restoration – where a film is recut from scratch using primary sources to preserve the exact content of the original.

The world premiere of The Cold Blue will be screened at the main Archives Building in the McGowan Theater on June 16th, 2018 at 3:00 p.m.  You can see a trailer of Cold Blue here and the individual reels of Wylers outtakes here. See before and after shots of the film’s restoration here.

Posted in Motion Pictures | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I’ve Been Working On the Railroad, and You Can, Too!

Under the Valuation Act of 1913, the federal government of the United States directed the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to assess the value of railroad property located inside the United States.  This information was to be used to determine rates for transportation of freight via those rail lines.  This law was an amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, and was further amended in 1920 and 1922.  [i]

In the Cartographic Branch, these records are part of RG 134: Records of the Interstate Commerce Commission, totaling approximately 11,000 cubic feet of materials.  Mostly blueprints, these maps are divided into two sub-groups – the original valuation maps and the revised maps.  The original maps were created during the period between 1915 and 1920 by ICC and railroad employees who were tasked with inventorying most of the rail lines in the United States.  The revised maps were updated until approximately 1960, and allows researchers follow changes in the railroad over time. These maps contain a wealth of information including things such as information about the railroad’s facilities along the rail lines, land adjacent to the railroad (sometimes bearing the land owner’s name), the layout of city blocks at the time the map was drawn, and who was operating the railroad at the time.

It is also worth noting that additional records relating to the ICC Valuation of the railroads including Engineering Field Notes, Equipment and Machinery Schedules, Final Engineering Reports, Land Acquisition Forms, Grant Forms, Leasing Forms, Land Appraisal Notes, Final Land Reports, Statements about Railroads, Accounting Schedules and Related Records, Formal Valuation Dockets, Periodic Forms Updating Final Engineering Reports, Periodic Forms Updating Final Land Reports, Annual Financial Reports, and Compiled Inspection Reports are available in the holdings of the Textual Department. [ii]

Accessing these maps can seem a little daunting at first, but once you know the basic information that you need to the request specific maps, the task becomes much easier and more manageable.

Let’s begin with how to make a request for the original ICC maps.  This group of maps is arranged by Bundle Numbers, then by Name of the Railroad.  If you know the name of the railroad, then you simply use the finding aid for RG 134 and look up the Bundle Number for the railroad that you are interested in.

To give a very basic example of how to pull records relating to a single, small railroad, let’s take a look at a page from the finding aid for the original railroad maps that lists the Bundle Number to the left of the Railroad Name.  Looking at this page, you will see that if you were searching for the Escanaba and Erie Railroad, all of the valuation section maps for the entire rail line lie within Bundle 455, which is what you would put in a request for.


RG: 134 Finding Aid, located in the Cartographic Research Room. This finding aid provides railroad names and corresponding bundle numbers and valuation sections.

Once you have determined what bundle number and railroad you are interested in, it is time to fill out the pull slip to request the records.  Below is an example of how to properly fill out a pull slip to request these records.  When requesting records, please be sure to fully fill out the pull slip with your name, the date, your researcher card number, the series name, the record group number, and the name and bundle number of the railroad.  Please DO NOT abbreviate the name of the railroad when requesting records.  This pull slip is fairly simple to fill out because the entire bundle is being requested, rather than a specific valuation section so no addition information is needed.

Escanaba RR

Pull slip, showing the information needed to request original ICC Valuation Maps using the name of the railroad and the bundle number.

Another common scenario that occurs when working with railroads is that the railroad covers large swath of territory that includes several states, but you are looking for a specific section of the line.  Looking again at the black finding aid page above we see that the Erie Railroad runs through at least New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  If you were looking for just the Ohio sections of this railroad, you would need to request Bundles 448, 449, and 450.  Please be aware that when putting in a request for multiple bundles, there is the risk of exceeding the ten item limit for a single pull.  When this happens, you will simply be asked to resubmit the request at a later pull time in order to gain access to the remaining records.

If a railroad covers a huge amount of territory, you may find yourself wondering, “Can I locate a specific section of railroad?”  Happily, the answer is, “Yes, you can!”

In order to locate a specific section of railroad, your first stop is the large blue binders, located in the Cartographic Research Room.  These binders are easy to locate as they look quite different than the finding aids around them.  They are arranged in alphabetical sections.

Research Room

RG: 134 ICC Valuation Map Finding Aids located in the Cartographic Research Room at Archives II, in College Park.


RG: 134 ICC Valuation Map Finding Aid located in the Cartographic Research Room at Archives II, in College Park.

To continue with our previous example, let us assume that we are interested in the Erie Railroad, specifically the section that runs from Springfield, OH to Marion, OH.

In order to locate that specific section of railroad, the first thing to do is locate the binder containing the railroad that you are looking for.  The finding aids are arranged alphabetically by name of the railroad.  Once we have located the page for the “Erie Railroad System in Ohio and Part of Pennsylvania”, the next step is to locate the two towns that we are interested in.  Looking at the map shown below (located in the blue binder), we can see that there is a line running from Springfield to Marion and the small bubble to the right of the line (connected by the dotted lines) is labelled “8 O”, which is the valuation section for that specific line.  Finally, go back to the original finding aid (the black-paged one) and look to see which bundle contains valuation section 8, in this case, Bundle 450.


RG: 134 ICC Valuation Map Finding Aids located in the Cartographic Research Room at Archives II, in College Park. This page illustrates specific valuation sections of the Erie Railroad System in Ohio and part of Pennsylvania.

Now that you have determined what railroad, bundle number, and specific valuation section that you are interested in, it is time to fill out the pull slip to request the records.  Below is an example of how to properly fill out a pull slip to request these records.  Again, when requesting records, please be sure to fully fill out the pull slip with your name, the date, your researcher card number, the series name, the record group number, and the name and bundle number of the railroad.  Please DO NOT abbreviate the name of the railroad when requesting records.  Also, since a specific valuation section is being sought, please be sure to include which particular valuation section that you are seeking.  In this case, there are multiple valuation sections relating to Ohio and you don’t want to accidentally end up with the wrong section of line and have to wait until the next pull time.  Occasionally, you may even know which specific map you are looking for within a valuation section and it is perfectly alright to include that information, as well.  That bit of information can be extremely helpful sometimes, because some individual valuation sections contain many folders and maps numbering into the hundreds.


Pull slip, showing the information needed to request original ICC Valuation Maps using the name of the railroad, the bundle number, and the valuation section.

Using the revised railroad finding aid works basically the same way as using the original railroad finding aid, only the columns are in a slightly different order.  This is due to the fact that the revised ICC Maps are arranged by name of the railroad rather than by a bundle number.  For this set of records, a bundle number is not strictly required, though it is helpful for staff as a means to double checking that the right set of drawings has been pulled.


Page from the RG: 134 finding aid for revised railroad maps showing the name of the railroad, with valuation sections and bundle number (not needed for requesting revised railroad maps).

Filling out the pull slip for these records is slightly different than filling out the slip for the original valuation sections.  First of all, in the section of the pull slip labelled “Series or Collection Name”, be sure to note “REVISED I.C.C. Valuation Maps”, otherwise the person pulling the records may inadvertently pull the original valuation sections.  Again, the bundle number is not required.  Also, some of these railroads have multiple valuation sections, therefore be sure to include the specific valuation sections you need unless you are interested in the entire bundle.  As always, there is a ten-item limit for pulls in the Cartographic department, so if your request exceeds that number, you will be asked to submit a second pull for the next pull time.


Pull slip, showing the information needed to request revised ICC Valuation Maps using the name of the railroad. **Note: bundle numbers are not needed when requesting revised valuation sections.

Finally, you may find yourself asking the question, “I know a railroad went through that location, but I don’t know the name of the railroad.  Is there a way to find that information so that I can request the valuation sections?”

Again, the answer is likely, “Yes!”  Here is how.


1913 edition of the “Commercial Atlas of America”, specifically showing the state of Indiana. This atlas is available in hard copy sheets in the Cartographic Research Room, Archives II, College Park, MD and also in the online catalog. **Special Note: This atlas is part of RG 64: Reference Maps and Drawings, NOT RG 134.** National Archives Identifier: 26335509

To find the name of a specific line in a specific location, one need look no further than the 1913 edition of the “Commercial Atlas of America”, which can be found in the Cartographic Research Room at Archives II and also by searching “RG64 Reference Maps and Drawings” in the Archives online catalog.  The above image shows two pages of the Atlas covering the state of Indiana and the lines that crisscross the state are railroads.

As an example, let’s suppose that we know that a railroad went through Jasper County, Indiana, specifically through the town of Wheatfield, but we don’t know the name of the railroad to request valuation sections for.  The first step in this process is to find Jasper County, Indiana on the magnified section of the state map shown below.  Once you have located Jasper County (tinted lime green and located directly east of Newton County), if you look to the northern section the county, you will see Wheatfield with a line running through it labelled “20” in red ink.  Next, look to the red column headed “Indiana Railroads” to the left of the map and look up number “20”, which turns out to be the Chicago, Indiana, and Southern Railroad.  Using that piece of information, you can utilize the other finding aids to see what is available for that specific railroad.


1913 edition of the “Commercial Atlas of America”, specifically showing a magnified image of part of the state of Indiana. This atlas is available in hard copy sheets in the Cartographic Research Room, Archives II, College Park, MD and also in the online catalog. **Special Note: This atlas is part of RG 64: Reference Maps and Drawings, NOT RG 134.** National Archives Identifier: 26335509

As always, should you have questions or need assistance using the finding aids in the research room, our very knowledgeable Cartographic staff are on hand in the research room to aid you in your search.

Special thanks to Peter Brauer and Ryan McPherson for their input and insight into this post and this overall topic.

[i] Wikipedia contributors. “Valuation Act.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 Feb. 2018. Web. 25 Apr. 2018.

[ii] Finding Aid for RG: 134: Records of the ICC, located in the Cartographic Research Room at Archives II, College Park, MD.

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Their War Too: U.S. Women in the Military During WWII. Part II

In part I of this two-part series, we discussed the role women played in the military during World War II by highlighting those who served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARS), and the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. In part II, we will discuss female service members of the U.S. Marines (WR) and Navy (WAVES).


Continue reading

Posted in Films, Military, Motion Pictures, U.S. Army, U.S. Army Air Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Uncategorized, women in the military, women's history, World War II | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Off the Board: Photographs of Past NFL Draftees

In light of the 2018 NFL Draft taking place this week, April 26th – 28th, we at The Unwritten Record decided to highlight some of the football related records in our Still Pictures collection.

Dating all the way back to 1936, the NFL Draft represents a time during the “off-season” when teams reload their rosters with young and skillful college players who, they believe, will become cornerstones of their respective franchises (although, as any football fan knows, that isn’t always the outcome).  Thanks to the help of my colleagues, Richie Green and Nick Natanson, I was able to unearth some interesting photos from The U.S. Information Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This first set of photos, taken from RG 306-PS (Master File Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Personalities, World Events, and American Economic, Social, and Cultural Life, ca. 1953 – ca. 1994), highlight some star college players in action from the late 40s and early 50s.  Each of the players below would go on to be drafted into the NFL, and their likenesses provide us a great window into an era of football that helped to establish the sport’s popularity across the country.

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  • ‘Doc’ Blanchard was selected in the first round of the 1946 Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers (1946 NFL Draft).
  • Doak Walker was selected in the first round of the 1949 Draft by the New York Bulldogs (1949 NFL Draft).
  • Hugh McElhenny was selected in the first round of the 1952 Draft by the San Francisco 49ers (1952 NFL Draft).
  • Vic Janowicz was selected in the seventh round of the 1952 Draft by the Washington Redskins (1952 NFL Draft).
  • J.C. Caroline was selected in the seventh round of the 1956 Draft by the Chicago Bears (1956 NFL Draft).

The next set of images, taken in 1967, come from RG 65-H (Photographs Accumulated by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, ca. 1933 – ca. 1972).  The first photo shows two of The All-American Football Team selections, O.J. Simpson and Larry Csonka, presenting FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover with an autographed football.  The second includes Simpson and Csonka, among others, during the presentation of The American Football Coaches Association’s “Tuss” McLaughry Award to Mr. Hoover.

Simpson, considered one of the greatest college running backs of all time, was drafted #1 overall in 1969 by the Buffalo Bills (1969 NFL Draft), and Csonka, a running back / fullback phenom in his own right, was drafted #8 overall by the Miami Dolphins in 1968 (1968 NFL Draft).

As we gear up to watch our favorite teams make their selections for the future, looking back at past legends, who helped build our favorite franchises, can be an engaging and nostalgic activity.  If you’re under 30, you might not know some of these players, but it could be a great way to strike up conversation with parents or grandparents.


…Go Pack Go!

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Spotlight: Remembering Ernie Pyle

On April 18th, 1945, war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by enemy fire on  Iejima* during the Battle of Okinawa. At the time of his death, Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, was well-known for his intimate and personal storytelling that highlighted the experiences of the “average” soldier. Pyle was able to tell the stories of enlisted men because he embedded himself in their day-to-day lives; he didn’t just observe their work, he lived, traveled, ate, and shared foxholes with them.

In remembrance of Ernie Pyle, the Unwritten Record presents photographs and motion pictures that highlight his work as a roving war correspondent during WWII.



Local ID: 127-GW-74-116277 / Caption: Marine Staff Sgt. Elwood P. Smith, right, and a Marine officer, converse with the late Ernie Pyle when his visited this base of Ulithi / Photographer: Dipallina / Date: March 24, 1945


Local ID: 127-N-116846 / Caption: PFC. Urban Vachon of Laconia, NH, and Columnist Ernie Pyle, rest by the roadside on the trail at Okinawa / Photographer: Barnett / Date: April 8, 1945


Local ID: 127-N-107089 / Caption: Ernie Pyle, the celebrated journalist, recently visited Leathernecks of the 3rd Marine Division, where along with talking to the veterans of the fight on Bougainville and Guam, he observed the famous Marine Corps war dogs for the first time. Shown here talking to “Jeep”, a scout and security patrol Doberman Pinscher, Ernie was impressed with the high standards set by the dogs and their outstanding battle records to date in the Pacific. Jeep is 18 months old and has been overseas only a short time / Photographer: TSgt. J. Mundell / Date: January 24, 1945


Local ID: 127-N-108916 / Caption: Mr. Pyle is shown here talking to Division Commander, Major General Graves B. Erskine. It is Ernie’s first trip into the Pacific. Previously he wrote about GI Joe from the European Theater of Operations. From left to right: Major General Erskine, Lt. Comdr. Max Miller, Col. Robert E. Hogaboom, Ernie Pyle, PFC. James R. Jerele, Pvt. Louie E. White, and Jeep (dog) / Photographer: Tsgt. Mundell / Date: January 22, 1945


Local ID: 127-N-116840 / Caption: Columnist Ernie Pyle rests on the roadside with a Marine patrol / Photographer: Barnett / Date: April 8, 1945


Local ID: 127-N-116953 / Caption: Columnist Ernie Pyle and some members of the 1st Marine Division rest by the roadside on Okinawa / Photographer: Barnett / Date: April 8, 1945


Local ID: 127-GW-539-116841 / Caption: Ernie Pyle, noted columnist, on the trail with a group of Marines. He is fourth from the left. Okinawa / Photographer: Barnett / Date: April 8, 1945



Local ID: 80-G-262929 / Caption: Ernie Pyle being transferred by breeches buoy from the USS Cabot (CVL-28) to the USS Moale (DD-693) / Date: February 23, 1945


Local ID: 80-G-303399 / Caption: Ernie Pyle, war correspondent, interviewing Joe J. Ray S1/c and Charles W. Page S1/C on board the USS Yorktown (CV-10) / Date: February 5, 1945


Local ID: 80-G-314396 / Caption: Ernie Pyle visiting with Marines aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawa / Date: March 20, 1945


Local ID: 80-G-314401 / Caption: Ernie Pyle watching Marine play Casino aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawa / Date: March 29, 1945


Local ID: 80-G-314410 / Caption: Ernie Pyle and sailors listening to war reports over loud speaker aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawa / Date: March 29, 1945


Local ID: 80-G-314416 / Caption: Ernie Pyle with troops listing to PFC Johnny Maturello play accordion aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawa / Date: March 1945


Local ID: 80-G-314806 / Caption: L to R; Edward P. Krapse, Lt. Arlington Bensel Jr., Ernie Pyle, and Cpl. Edward M. Wrenne


Local ID: 80-G-314812 / Caption: Ernie Pyle center leaning on a Marine’s shoulder.



Local ID: 111-SC-439556 / Caption: Bomb that hit PRO today also hurt some of the war correspondents, among whom was Ernie Pyle. He suffered a slight cut on the face and is here looking at his bed from which he had just left to watch the bombing, when the roof fell on it. Nettuno Area, Italy / Photographer: Blau / Date: March 16, 1944


Local ID: 111-SC-439555 / Caption: Cpl. Jesse Cooper (of Powell Station, TN), Ernie Pyle, and Pvt. Willian Bennet (of Dunn, NC) at muzzle of a 155mm rifle. Fifth Army. Anzio Beachhead area, Italy / Photographer: Bonnard / Date: March 18, 1944


Local ID: 111-SC-210915 / Caption: At Nettuno, Italy, Ernie Pyle, war correspondent, and Major General Lucian Truscott, stand in front of Corps Headquarters / Photographer: Blau / Date: March 26, 1944


Local ID: 111-SC-207093 / Caption: Ernie Pyle, preparing to cover the Pacific war front, gets a preview from enlisted men who have returned from the front. From left to right – T/4 Al Levy (of Albany, NY), T/5 William Gharrity (of Chippewa Falls, WI), and Ssgt. Richard W. Bridenbaugh (of Toledo, OH) / Date: January 1945


Local ID: 111-SC-191703 / Caption: Photograph of Ernie Pyle, famous war correspondent, eating “C” rations. Fifth Army, Anzio Beachhead area, Italy / Date: March 18, 1944


Local ID: 111-SC-165303 / Caption: Correspondent, Ernie Pyle, of Scripps-Howard Newspapers, Washington DC, interviewing Sgt. Ralph Gower (of Sacramento, CA), Pvt. Raymond Astrackon (left, of New York City), and 2nd. Lt. Annette Heaton, ANC (of Detroit, MI), attached to an evacuation hospital. North Africa / Date: December 2, 1942


Local ID: 111-SC-334352 / Caption: The body of Ernie Pyle, who lost his life while serving with first line troops on Ie Shima, was laid to final rest on July 19th in the new Punchbowl Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Oahu. Pall bearers are pictured removing Ernie Pyle’s flag draped casket before the burial ceremonies / Date: July 19, 1949


Jack Lieb Collection

Jack Lieb was a newsreel cameraman who covered the end of the war in Europe (D-Day to Germany). Pyle appears in the following videos, which document preparations for the D-Day invasion in England and France.

Universal News

Pyle appears in the following Universal newsreel, which was released just 9 days before his death.

The records presented above were found in the following series:

*Iejima is often referred to as Ie Shima. Additionally, at the time of Pyle’s death, some news outlets referred to Iejima as Ie Island.

Special thanks to Audrey Amidon, who provided links and context to the films included in this blog post.

All of the photographs in this blog post are unrestricted and may be used freely.

Posted in Military, Motion Pictures, Photographs, U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Uncategorized, World War II | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Boston, 1775: A City Under Siege!

Of all the record groups in the Cartographic Department’s holdings, one of the most interesting and varied is RG 77.   This record group, with its myriad of smaller series, holds many Revolutionary War, Civil War and Civil War-era maps, (both printed and manuscript), drawings and schematics of forts, posts, and reservations, and original designs for bridges and pathways for roads just to name a few things.  Generally speaking, this huge record group holds some really interesting and beautiful documents.


RG 77: Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, 1789-1999, Fortifications Map File Plans of Military Forts, 1818-194, Arc Identifier 17369895

One of the more fascinating maps in terms of illustrating exactly how significantly things have changed in the United States over time is the above map entitled “Map Showing Boston and its Environs and Harbor, with the Rebel Works Raised Against the Town in 1775”.  This map, dated October 1st, 1775, presents a very different image of Boston than the one that we are familiar with today.  At the time that this map was created, the city of Boston was on a small piece of land, called “Shawmut” in the Native Algonquian language.  The colonists initially referred to the area as “Trimountaine”, but changed the name to “Boston”, after the city of Boston in Lincolnshire, England on September 7th, 1630[i].  Looking closely at the map, the Boston of 1775 is located on the left side of the map, almost centered between the top and bottom of the image with the upper part of the landmass labelled “mill pond” and “mill dam”.

To put this map in context, it is important to understand briefly what was taking place in Boston during the months surrounding October of 1775. Boston had been besieged since April of 1775 following the battles at Lexington and Concord.  The British still maintained control over Boston Harbor, however, and were able to receive supplies via that route.  So, Colonial forces decided to surround Boston in an effort to disrupt supply lines.

In June of 1775, the British had managed to capture Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill, both of which lie to the north of Boston, and stop the Continental Army from bombarding the city[i].  Washington arrived shortly thereafter, in July, and took command of the Continental forces with the express goal of driving British forces out of Boston.  Later on, in November, Washington would send for heavy artillery, captured at from the British at Fort Ticonderoga the previous May, to be brought to Boston[ii].  The cannons arrived in January and, by March, had been positioned at Dorchester Heights.  The British quickly came to realize that their position was indefensible given the positioning of the Continental Army’s artillery on Dorchester Heights and withdrew from Boston on March 17th, 1776[iii].


Record Group 64: Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1789 – ca. 2007.  Series: Reference Maps and Drawings, 1934 – 1989

From a strictly geographical standpoint, this map looks very different from what we think of as Boston today.  At the time that the 1775 map was made, none of the areas around Boston had yet been filled in.  The above map from RG 64 shows Boston as it is today.  The West Cove was filled in first (1803-1863), followed by the Mill Pond (1804-1829), then the West Cove (1803-1863), and finally, the South Cove (1806-1843).  Later on in the 19th century, filling projects were undertaken in East Boston, and Marine and Columbus park in South Boston.  The land that would eventually be occupied by Logan airport was filled in 1922[iv].

[i] “Battle of Bunker Hill”.  Encyclopedia Britannica.  Nov. 16, 2017.

[ii] Frothingham, Jr, Richard (1851). History of the Siege of Boston and of the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. Little and Brown.

[iii] McCullough, David (2005). 1776. Simon and Schuster Paperback. Pp 95-97.

[iv] Howe, Jeffrey.  “Boston: History of the Landfills”.  Study Guide for FA267.   From Saltbox to Skyscraper: Architecture in America.  1996.


Posted in Cartographic Records, Graphic Materials, Maps, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Building Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter will forever go down in history as the location of the opening shots of the Civil War on April 12, 1861. The Cartographic Branch holds architectural plans and drawings associated with the construction of forts throughout our nation’s history. This includes numerous plans relating to Fort Sumter’s lengthy construction. Today we are featuring a sampling of these plans, which are held within Record Group (RG) 77, Fortifications Map File.

Following the War of 1812, the United States began to strengthen its coastal defenses. The idea for a fortification that eventually became Fort Sumter first appears in an 1826 report to Congress. Initial plans were drawn up in the following years, including the 1828 plan below.


Plan of a Casemated Battery designed for the Shoal opposite Fort Moultrie, Charleston Harbour, S.C., dated 1828. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 1.

Work commenced on the fort, but progressed slowly. A rock foundation was constructed on a shoal in Charleston Harbor. However, in 1834, a legal case concerning the ownership of the shoal area halted construction.


Plan and Sections showing the condition of the Foundation of Fort Sumter, S.C. during the Years 1831, 1832 and 1833, dated 1833. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 2.

Construction resumed in 1841. Under the supervision of Captain A.H. Bowman, the original plans were modified to make the fortification stronger. However, troubles continued to plague the construction of the fort. A lack of supplies and the difficulty of transporting supplies by boat to the shoal made progress slow.


Drawing showing normal high and low tides, dated 1843. Note the mark for the tide of October 6, 1842. Areas around Charleston, SC experienced higher than normal tides and flooding from October 4 – 6, 1842, due to a hurricane. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 10.


Plan, section, and elevations of Fort Sumter exhibiting the condition of the work on 30th September 1846. RG 77, Fortifications File , Drawer 66, Sheet 36.

Work continued in the 1850s, but then stalled due to lack of funding. By 1860, Fort Sumter consisted of an unfinished five-sided stone masonry fort. Two tiers of gunrooms lined four of the fort’s walls. Officers quarters were located along the other wall. The fort also contained three barracks buildings for enlisted soldiers and a parade ground.


Section through the middle of the first pier westward of the Western Magazine, dated 1854. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 70.


Plans and Elevation of Officers’ Quarters at Fort Sumter, dated 1851. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 53.

As tensions between North and South escalated in December 1860 with the secession of the state of South Carolina, artillery troops occupied the unfinished fort. At that time, only 15 out of the planned 135 cannon were mounted and in place. Barracks, quarters, and gunrooms remained unfinished. After an attack by South Carolina troops on a ship attempting to resupply Fort Sumter in January 1861, the troops within Fort Sumter began strengthening their position in preparation for an attack against the fort.


Plan for Fort Sumter showing Barbette Tier and Parade and 1st Tier Casemate, dated March 1861, only a short time before the firing on the fort by Confederate troops. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 82.

On the morning of April 12, 1861, tensions finally reached the breaking point. At about 4:30 a.m., Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter. After facing a severe bombardment, the Union-held fort surrendered the following day. Confederates held Fort Sumter until February 1865, only weeks before the surrender of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. Throughout the war, the fort suffered repeated bombardments and was severely damaged, as evidenced by the drawings below.


Fort Sumter, South Carolina, at the time of its capture February 18, 1865. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 86.

The above plans provide only a small sampling of the plans of Fort Sumter that are available to view in the Cartographic Research Room at the National Archives. We invite you to visit to learn more about Fort Sumter and the other forts and fortifications for which we hold architectural drawings and plans.

Sources about the construction of Fort Sumter:

Barnes, Frank E. Fort Sumter National Monument.

Hendrix, M. Patrick. A History of Fort Sumter: Building a Civil War Landmark. The History Press, 2014.

National Park Service. “Fort Sumter. History and Culture.

Posted in Architectural and Engineering Drawings, Cartographic Records, Civil War, forts, Military, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment