Spotlight: Hollywood Goes to War

Just prior to Pearl Harbor, a military lecture series was created to educate new draftees and volunteers. The series covered important topics such as world military history and the principles of democracy. But the lecture series and outdated films that accompanied it failed to capture the audience’s attention. Instead of boosting moral and educating service members, it bored them.

With America’s entry into WWII, it became vital to gain the support of soldiers and civilians, the current educational material would need updated. To do this, General George Marshall, despite resistance, enlisted Hollywood to create exciting short movies meant to justify America’s involvement in the war. Marshall called upon Academy Award winner Frank Capra, a Sicilian-American director, to create the Why We Fight  series.

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Celebrating America: The USIA Young Filmmaker Bicentennial Grant Project

The United States’ Bicentennial celebration was huge. America’s 200th birthday saturated popular culture in the mid-1970s, with Bicentennial-themed products and media. In addition, years of planning by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration culminated in a year of more formal events put on by the United States government. Many federal agencies hopped on the Bicentennial bandwagon, among them the organization that promoted American democracy abroad, the United States Information Agency (USIA). For its Bicentennial celebration, the USIA created a grant program for student filmmakers with a plan to distribute the films overseas.

The best known of these films is undoubtedly the trippy animated film 200. 200 is internet-famous, and is the reason I first learned of the USIA film grants. According to filmmaker Vince Collins, in making 200 he “put together every animatable symbol, image or icon of the USA.” Included in the film’s imagery are the official seal, the Statue of Liberty, the Woodstock logo, the Liberty Bell, and Mt. Rushmore. The film layers symbol on top of symbol, with a bald eagle hatching from a red, white, and blue egg and flying past the American Gothic farmers, the U.S. Capitol building, the Golden Gate Bridge, Abe Lincoln’s cabin, and an American bison.

The USIA launched the grant program in October of 1974, soliciting proposals from college and graduate students majoring in film, television, or communications. Applicants were required to submit a 16mm sample of previous work, and a proposal that explained how the film would relate to one of the three official themes of the Bicentennial: Heritage ’76 (focusing on the nation’s past, including Native Americans and immigrants), Festival USA (described in the application as “the richness of our diversity and the vitality of our culture”), and Horizons ’76 (planning for America’s third century). 320 applicants from 45 states submitted proposals. Fifteen students received grants of $3000 to make their films.

Stills from the first seven films distributed by the USIA.

The USIA made the first seven films available to overseas posts for a loan circuit in July 1976 in the form of a two reel 16mm program called “Series A.” In addition, the films were sent to festivals, and Vince Collins’ psychedelic animated short 200 was blown up to 35mm and made available for theatrical release in several countries. The USIA was so impressed with Collins’ work sample that the agency also purchased six prints of his other films, Euphoria and Fantasy for distribution overseas. (These titles are not preserved at the National Archives, but they can be viewed on Collins’ YouTube channel.)

We’ll be covering the rest of the “Series A” films in future posts, so stay tuned! Many thanks to Vince Collins, and the rest of the filmmakers who were willing to answer questions about their work.

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How to Research: Photographs Relating to WWII Air Force Units

Previously the Still Pictures Branch introduced the initial blog in a four part series on various methods of researching World War II unit records. The first part of the series discussed methods of researching photographs of U.S. Army units during the war. This installment of the series will cover helpful techniques in U.S. Air Force unit research. Our hope is that this information is useful for the future projects of interested researchers.

As with any military unit research, historical knowledge of a U.S. Air Force unit is extremely valuable. The more we know about a unit, such as locations, personalities, decorations, types of aircraft/equipment or the unit’s place in the organizational hierarchy of the military, the more likely we are to find our photograph/s.

To illustrate our search techniques, we have chosen the 91st Bomber Group as an example. The 91st Bombardment Group, also known as “The Ragged Irregulars”, consisted of the 322nd, 323rd, 324th and 401st Bombardment Squadrons during the war.

The largest collection of Air Force photographs relating to WWII in the Still Pictures branch is 342-FH, Black and White and Color Photographs of U.S. Air Force and Predecessor Agencies Activities, Facilities and Personnel – World War II and Korean War, ca. 1940 – ca. 1980 . To begin our search within this series, we first consult the index/caption cards located in the Still Pictures research room in College Park, MD. If We consult the index/captions under the 91st Bombardment Group, we find many cards containing a variety of captions describing the relative photographs:

342-FH-3A-09111 Caption Card

The index/caption cards provide us with the identifying information needed to retrieve the photograph. Note: Index cards will provide the original negative number (in this case – 56448 A.C.). Research room staff will then aid the researcher in converting the negative number into the corresponding print number (342-FH-3A-09111):


342-FH-3A-09111 “Major Willis Taylor, (Left) command pilot, of Salt Lake City, Utah congratulated Major Charles Hudson, lead bombardier of the U.S. 8th AF 91st Bomb Group, from Bakersfield, California on the results of his group’s bombing of the railway center ant Stendal, Germany, Feb. 22, 1945, when more than 1,400 B-17 “Flying Fortresses” and B-24 Liberators escorted by 800 fighters attacked communication lines at key points throughout central Germany.”

We know that the 91st Bombardment Group consisted of the 322nd, 323rd, 324th and 401st Bombardment Squadrons. So, we can also search under those specific units:


342-FH-3A-10533 “Lt. W.D. Beasley and crew of the 322nd Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, study a map of the target just before takeoff. 9th March 1943, England.”


342-FH-3A-10606 “Lt. E.J. Harvey and crew of the 323rd bomb sq., 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, beside the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Out House Mouse”. England.

If we are interested in an individual member of the unit, we can search under their name:


342-FH-3A-110679 “Capt. Parker, pilot of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Black Swan”, poses beside the plane. 324th Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, England. 25 August 1943.”

If we know the locations of the unit during the war, then we can perform a search under the theater of war, country or city:


342-FH-3A-16390 “Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress”, of the 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, flying low over the town of Croisette, France. 14 January 1944.


342-FH-3A-19630 “Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” of the 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, wing their way over enemy territory enroute to target in Brunswick, Germany. 30 January 1944″

An interested researcher could even search under the subject “mascot” to find important photographs:


342-FH-3A-10619 “Lt. Charles E. Cliburn and crew of the 324th Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, pose with their mascot “Skippy” beside a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. England, 24 March 1943.”

When researching military unit records its important to come prepared with as much knowledge about the subject as possible and to attack the research from many different angles. We shouldn’t rely solely on a search of the specific unit by unit name/number, but also by the personalities, locations, vehicles, triumphs and tragedies that give the military unit its historical character.

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From Norfolk to NARA: The Unexpected Journey of the Navy Shipyard Glass Plate Negatives

As the National Archives adapts to the world of digital records, it is easy to lose sight of the traditional challenges that have plagued archivists for generations. Over the last year, the Still Pictures branch has accessioned and processed a number of series that were originally captured on glass plates.  Such was the case with photographs from the Soo Locks (highlighted in an earlier blog post), as well as photographs from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

U.S. Navy Yard, Norfolk, Virginia. Nov. 17, 1917. C-2258-Dry dock No. 4 from west, Geo. Leary Construction Co. Local Identifier: 181-V-1361

Dating back to 1767, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is the oldest in the United States.  Among other historic milestones, the shipyard is credited with building the first drydock in the United States, the first Navy battleship (the U.S.S. Texas), and the first Navy aircraft carrier (the U.S.S. Langley).  On the precipice of World War I, the shipyard commissioned additional drydocks in order to build and maintain the expanding naval fleet.  During the war years, employment at the shipyard surged to over 11,000 employees, many of whom helped build additional shops and facilities to accommodate the new workers and their families.

The photographs in this collection primarily depict the Norfolk Naval Shipyard during the turbulent years before, during, and after World War I.   Photographers captured these images on Gelatin Dry Plates, a common photographic process at the turn of the 20th century.  The process involved exposing a treated glass plate to light, which was later developed, fixed, and washed in a darkroom.  Norfolk photographers also made prints from the glass plate negatives, which were then placed in bound albums.  Individuals then arranged the original glass plates in specially designed wooden boxes for storage at Norfolk, where they remained for over a century.

It was not until 2011 that senior archivist, Nick Natanson, proposed that Norfolk Shipyard transfer photographs to NARA.  Nick arranged for then-branch-chief, Ed McCarter, and photo conservator, Sara Shpargel, to visit the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and decide if transfer was warranted. Out of nearly 300,000 photographs, Ed and Sara determined that approximately 3,000 photos on glass plates and their corresponding albums were in the most urgent need of conservation and recommended that they be transferred to NARA.

Before transferring the plates to NARA, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard audio visual office took on the task of digitizing the records. A Norfolk photographer used a camera-based system to shoot each glass plate negative, thus creating a digital scan, or as we call it, a reference copy.  Digitization helps to preserve the original photographs by limiting the amount the glass plates are handled, and also facilitates access to a wider audience that would otherwise not have access to the records.

The next phase of the project was getting the albums, the recently created scans, and the fragile glass plates from Norfolk, Virginia to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.  This process was facilitated by the Defense Imagery Management Operations Center (DIMOC), the agency responsible for managing all visual information for the Department of Defense and U.S. military activities.  In November of 2015, five years after Nick’s initial discussions and 125 years after the first photo was taken, Julia Hickey, an archivist at DIMOC, drove the records from Norfolk to NARA.

Norfolk Navy Yard Negative Delivery; (left to right) Richard Green, Archivist, Julia Hickey, Defense Imagery Management Operations Center (DIMOC) Archivist, Elizabeth Forston, Archivist, and William Wade, Supervisory Archivist, unload glass plate negatives and image log books

Once the records arrived at NARA, staff undertook the task of processing the multi-faceted collection.  The first step was to remove the glass plates from their beautifully antique, yet non-archival, wooden boxes and rehouse them into specially created archival shelving units.  Archivists then gave each plate, print, and scan a National Archives Identifier, and recorded that information with the agency-provided caption in a spreadsheet.  Archivists then rehoused the prints into archival boxes and the uploaded the digital scans into the Electronic Records Archives for preservation.  Lastly, the series was described and uploaded to the National Archives Catalog.*

Between the time photographers first captured these images and the time they appeared on the National Archives Catalog, these photographs faced deterioration, changed ownership, and tested the limits of government bureaucracy.   Through an outstanding display of inter-agency cooperation, the photographs from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard are now available to the public and will be preserved at the National Archives for generations to come.

*The vast majority of the collection is now available to view on the National Archives Catalog.  As a preservation measure the Still Photos Branch asks that researchers use the digital version whenever possible, although prints and negatives may be available upon special request.

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Lost and Found: The Story of ‘Lady Be Good’ and Her Crew


On April 4, 1943, a B-24D Liberator nicknamed Lady Be Good took off from Soluch, an airstrip located near Bengazi, Libya, for what would be her first and final mission. During that fateful trip, Lady Be Good carried nine members of the 514th Squadron, 376th Bomb Group, 9th Air Force. Their names:

  • 1st Lieutenant William J. Hatton, Pilot
  • 2d Lieutenant Robert F. Toner, Copilot
  • 2d Lieutenant Dp Hays, Navigator
  • 2d Lieutenant John S. Woravka, Bombardier
  • Technical Sergeant Harold J. Ripslinger, Flight Engineer
  • Technical Sergeant Robert E. LaMotte, Radio Operator
  • Staff Sergeant Guy E. Shelley, Gunner/Asst Flight Engineer
  • Staff Sergeant Vernon L. Moore, Gunner/Asst Radio Operator
  • Staff Sergeant Samuel R. Adams, Gunner

The plan had been for the aircraft to leave Soluch in waves, thus requiring those leaving last to catch up with the formation. Unfortunately, strong winds in the Sahara Desert resulted in sandstorms and poor visibility for the bombers. Many of the aircraft ultimately aborted their mission to Naples, Italy, and returned to Soluch. Despite everything, Lady Be Good and her crew valiantly carried on.

Lady, which had been one of the last planes to depart for the mission, never caught up with the formation. She eventually turned around just prior to reaching the target in Naples. It was on the solo trip back to Soluch that things went awry.

The last contact with Lady Be Good came from Lt. Hatton, who had radioed Soluch airfield for assistance. He stated that the aircraft’s automatic direction finder was no longer operating correctly and they needed guidance. The crew never received the help that they requested and consequently, Lady overshot Soluch. A search and rescue team was deployed but the ill-fated crew could not be located. At the end of the search, it was reported that Lady Be Good and her crew had been lost over the Mediterranean Sea.

By the end of WWII, the loss of Lady Be Good remained a mystery. Her story was not necessarily unique, as she was just one of many aircraft and crew to go missing during the war. However, unlike others to go missing, the story of Lady Be Good and her crew would eventually be pieced together.


In November 1958, British geologists working for D’Arcy Oil Company (later merged with British Petroleum) were flying over the Libyan Desert when they spotted a crashed plane. They noted the location and contacted Wheelus Air Force Base. At the time, Wheelus did not have any record of an American plane having been lost in the area, therefore, they did not react immediately to the call. The team of geologists sighted the downed aircraft during subsequent surveys and in March 1959, D’Arcy Oil Company dispatched a ground team to investigate.

The initial inspection of the site was conducted by a D’Arcy surveyor, Gordon Bowerman, who happened to be a friend of Lieutenant Colonel Walter B. Kolbus, commander of Wheelus Air Base. According to the Army Quartermaster Foundation, after visiting the site, Bowerman wrote a letter to Lt. Col. Kolbus. The letter contained information from the plane’s maintenance inspection records, as well as crew names found on clothing and other equipment. This information prompted officials from Wheelus Air Force Base and the Army Quartermaster Mortuary in Frankfurt, Germany to investigate the crash site. Finally, after sixteen years, the story of Lady Be Good would be told.

The initial investigation by military officials of the Lady Be Good crash site began in May 1959 and ended in August 1959. During this time, U.S. Military completed extensive ground searches, in addition to ground-controlled air searches. Despite looking in the area for months, the team was unable to locate any of the crew’s remains. Though, military personnel did recover some of the crew’s equipment, such as parachutes, flight boots, and arrowhead markers. The markers were presumably used by the crew to mark their trail. After months of looking, “the search was abandoned when equipment began to deteriorate and fail and the probability of the airmen being completely covered by shifting sand made the dangers of further search impractical.”

In February 1960, six months after ending the first search, the remains of five crew members were located. Just like the initial discovery of the crash site, British Petroleum employees were also responsible for locating the men. Officials from the Army Quartermaster Mortuary returned to Libya to process the site. The remains were identified as belonging to Lt. Hatton, Lt. Toner, Lt. Hays, Sgt. Adams, and Sgt. LaMotte. Many personal items were also recovered at the site, including canteens, flashlights, pieces of parachutes, and flight jackets. The most insightful item to be found was a diary belonging to Lt. Robert Toner.

After locating five of the nine airmen, the military made one last effort to find the remaining four crew members. This final search, named “Operation Climax”, was a joint operation by the Army and Air Force. Operation Climax led to the discovery of two more crew members.  Sgt. Shelley was found 21 miles northwest of the location where the first five men were found. Sgt. Ripslinger was located 26 miles north of Sgt. Shelley.  Operation Climax ended at the end of May 1960 with two men still missing.

British Petroleum would make one more discovery in August 1960, finally locating the remains of Lt. John Woravka. Lt. Woravka had been the only crew member that did not meet up with the group after bailing out of the aircraft. The remains of the ninth airman, Sgt. Vernon Moore, have never been found.


With all of the evidence at hand, military officials were able to piece together the final moments of Lady Be Good and her crew.

It is assumed that, after overshooting their destination, Lady Be Good began to run out of fuel. It was quite dark during their return from the mission, which, combined with their inexperience, spelled disaster. It is believed that the men assumed they were flying over the Mediterranean, explaining why they did not make any attempt to land the plane. Instead, all nine men made the decision to bail out of the aircraft; eight of the crew members survived the jump. The men landed approximately fifteen miles from where Lady Be Good had crashed.  However, the men never made it back to their airplane. Instead, the eight men, who only had half a canteen of water, walked 85 miles from where they landed after parachuting out of Lady Be Good. Five of the men became too exhausted to continue their journey. The remaining three men tried to carry on, though they too were unable to locate help. All men perished in the middle of the desert.

Given the circumstances, Lady Be Good appeared to be in decent shape, staying pretty well preserved after 16 years in the desert. Officials reported that the airplane was stocked with survival gear, including food rations and water. Moreover, the radio was still in tact and working. It is thought that, if the men had only searched for their plane, they may have survived the ordeal.

Though the Lady and her men did not survive, their story continues to be shared and remembered through blogs, books, movies, museum exhibits, paintings, and even a stained glass window (now on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force).

This memorial window in the chapel at Wheelus Air Base, Libya, is dedicated to the crew of the B-24 “Lady Be Good” which crashed in the Libyan desert after a raid on Naples, Italy, during WWII. Image date: 1961. Local ID: 342-B-ND-038-9-K35807

Artwork: “The Lady Be Good Dies Alone,” Libya, 1943 Artist: Willard Fleming. Local ID: 330-CFD-DF-SC-88-02433


All of the above images were scanned from photographs held in NARA’s Still Pictures Division. 

Works Consulted

Army Quartermaster Foundation. Lady be good. 

Holder, William. Epitaph to the lady – 30 years after. Air University Review. 

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Lady be good.

Walton, Bill. The B-24 that crashed but the bad luck didn’t end there! AV Geekery. 

Mecca, Peter. A veteran’s story: The Ghost liberator – Lady be good. Warbirds News.












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Spotlight: Flag Day

The flag of the United States of America was adopted 240 years ago on June 14, 1777. Throughout our nation’s history our flag has taken on many forms, growing with the country it so proudly represents. It has also taken on many affectionate monikers – the American Flag; the Stars and Stripes; Old Glory; the Red, White, and Blue; the Stars and Bars; and the Star Spangled Banner.

Within the holdings of Still Picture Branch, researchers can find depictions of the American Flag in a variety of formats ranging from photographic prints to artwork. Many of these images are digitally available in the catalog, and a smattering of those records have been collected for this post including examples from Record Groups 26-G80-G, 111-SC, 127-N165-SWS, 165-WW, 179-WP, 306-AP311-MAD, 330-CFD, and 406-SMP.

As early as the mid-1800’s, the American People were celebrating the anniversary of our flag’s adoption. This tradition has grown into the nationally recognized Flag Day celebration that we know today. So, in honor of Flag Day, Still Picture Branch presents the Flag of the United States of America in images.

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From Our Beginnings,

through our wars.

In great changes,

and great sorrows.

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With depths of pride,

Happy Flag Day.

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The Battle of Midway and Torpedo Squadron 8: A Memorial to a Fallen Unit

On June 4, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked United States forces on the island of Midway. With four Japanese aircraft carriers sunk by the conclusion of the conflict, the battle was the first major victory for the US in the Pacific. But victory did not come without cost. More than 300 Americans lost their lives during the Battle of Midway, including all but one member of the bomber group Torpedo Squadron 8. Two films made by Oscar-winning director John Ford, now preserved at the National Archives, tell the story of triumph and sacrifice at Midway.

The Battle of Midway

Two years into John Ford’s war service, the Hollywood director had produced Sex Hygiene, the military’s frontline weapon against venereal disease—a threat to military readiness—and established the Navy’s Field Photo Unit. When Ford was asked to find a few cameramen for an assignment in the Pacific, he put his own name forward and headed to Midway, a strategically important island halfway between mainland America and Japan. Continue reading

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Utility Patent Drawings

One fascinating way to look at our history is by studying the tools we have invented and used throughout the years. There is no better way to do this than by looking at the patent drawings we hold in the Cartographic Branch at the National Archives.

The majority of the patent drawings we have are found in Record Group 241: Utility Patent Drawings. There are about one million drawings in this series, ranging from the 1837 to 1911. These drawings give us a snapshot into what inventors were prioritizing and what cutting edge technology was like at the time.

While we look at what was invented or improved upon during this time period, it’s interesting to see early concepts for items that we now might take for granted. For example, when using a paper bag, you’re not likely to think about its history and various designs, but we can see these earlier ideas in patent drawings.


RG 241, Utility Patent Drawings, 242499

It’s also interesting to compare older object designs with their modern counterparts to see how they’ve evolved over time. An example of this is a baseball catcher’s equipment. Looking at a patent from 1904, it’s clear how much this design has changed:


RG 241, Utility Patent Drawings, 755209, Sheet 1

Because the patents cover such a wide range of objects and devices, you are likely come across something unique while looking through the records, like the following patent:


RG 241, Utility Patent Drawings, 118435

Or this patent for a mustache guard:


RG 241, Utility Patent Drawings, 435748

Continue reading

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Barbecue, Bar-B-Q, BBQ!!

This Blog Post was Co-written By Matthew Heichelbech

Temperatures around the country are rising, which means two things: It’s nearly summer and it’s time to Barbecue!! In honor of our national penchant for outdoor cooking, we’ve collected some pictures of Americans from all over the country Bar-B-Qing all over the world. Enjoy!

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Bluegrass Shot OneOne thing that does not come immediately to mind when I think of the National Park Service (NPS) is the performing arts.  I have been attending concerts at the Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts for decades.  It is my favorite outdoor concert venue in the Washington, DC area.  However, I am always a little confused when I see all these people in National-Park-Service uniforms.  Then I remember that I am actually in one of our National Parks.  It never occurred to me that there may be other National Parks whose purpose is the preservation and celebration of our culture through performance.  That is, until I came across the moving images from the Harpers Ferry Center Collection relating to the Blue Ridge Music Center.

The records of the Harpers Ferry Center (HFC) are a relatively new addition to the moving image holdings of the National Archives.  These records came to the National Archives from the Harpers Ferry Center located in West Virginia.  HFC opened its doors for business on March 2, 1970 and its primary function is providing interpretive assistance tools for NPS field interpreters to fulfill the mission of the National Park Service to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”  These tools include, but are not limited to audiovisual programs, historic furnishings, museum exhibits, and publications.  As well as these tools, HFC also provides a variety of services including graphic research, interpretive planning, and assistance with media development strategies.

I have the privilege of making these moving images from HFC available to the public.  When I think about the natural resources of our national parks places like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite come to mind.  On the other hand, when I think about the cultural resources of our national parks I think of places like the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania or the Frederick Douglass House in Anacostia, a neighborhood located in South East Washington DC.  While the Harpers Ferry Collection includes films from these iconic parks, it has also opened my eyes to some unexpected gems.

The Blue Ridge Music Center was established in the mid-1980s.  The Center is located near Galax Virginia: milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Shortly after its establishment there were plans to create a film on the music of the region to be included as part of the park’s exhibits.  Sadly, the film was never finished.  However, about ten original camera rolls remain and are now part of the permanent holdings here at the National Archives.

Bluegrass Shot Two

I am passionate about the records from these sites because I love both being in nature, and learning about the history of my country.  Much like the NPS’s mission, the National Archives’ mission is to preserve and “provide public access to Federal Government records.”  Therefore, while these records appeal to me personally, I am also proud to contribute to their preservation so others will benefit in the future.  Moreover, while Civil War battlefields, homes of civil rights leaders, and picturesque landscapes are important parts of our natural and cultural history, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the cultural scope of our national parks also includes the performing arts.  I am looking forward to visiting the Blue Ridge Music Center sometime soon.  For now however, I will need to be content to experience these Blue Ridge musicians’ performances from the 1980’s, preserved at the National Archives.

Many of our films come to the Archives with production files that have detailed notes.  While this film does have a production file its notes are limited.  If you are able to identify any of the musicians here please leave a comment so that we can give them due credit.

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