Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189, Yvonne French (202) 707-9191

November 18, 1997

American Treasures of the Library of Congress Exhibition Continues as the Library Adds Military, Poltical Items

Items to be exhibited beginning Nov. 28 in the rotating "American Treasures of the Library of Congress" exhibition include several fascinating documents and artifacts from the military and political history of the United States. The military items include George Washington's commission as commander of the Continental Army; an atlas of French troop encampments after the battle of Yorktown; Lee's lost orders before the Battle of Antietam, Md.; a fire insurance map showing the Alamo; the first printed edition of the "Star Spangled Banner"; a lithograph of Evangeline Booth, who persuaded the U.S. government to allow women in the Salvation Army to serve overseas during World War I; and Douglas MacArthur's 1951 speech in which he says "old soldiers never die, they just fade away."

Among the political items newly added to the exhibition are a first printing of the Declaration of Independence, sent by John Hancock to General George Washington; George Washington's letter announcing to the Senate his nominees to the first Supreme Court; South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun's speech denouncing northern aggression, written during the Compromise of 1850; a scrapbook assembled by Abraham Lincoln of news accounts of his debates with Illinois Sen. Stephen Douglas in the 1858 race for his seat; a pacifist drawing by Boardman Robinson from the socialist journal The Masses protesting World War I; a caricature of Harry S. Truman wearing General Douglas MacArthur's hat; and the manuscript of a poem Robert Frost delivered at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961.

"'American Treasures of the Library of Congress,' is an unprecedented rotating exhibition of the rarest and most significant items from the Library's collections relating to America's past," said James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress. "It continues to show a variety of treasures drawn from every corner of the world's largest library."

A unique selection of rare books, music, manuscripts, maps, photographs, drawings, audio selections and video clips gives visitors a firsthand look at a cross section of the vast repository that has been called "America's Memory." Highlights of the exhibition include the first extant book printed in America, early baseball cards, the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination, a photograph of the Wright brothers' first flight taken at the instant of takeoff, and Maya Lin's submission drawing for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition.

The continuing exhibition, made possible by a grant from the Xerox Foundation, is the centerpiece of a yearlong celebration marking the official reopening of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building during its 100th anniversary year. The Jefferson Building had been under renovation since 1984, and may now be seen in its fully restored state.

President Clinton spoke at the rededication of the building and the opening of the exhibition on April 30. He said: "As these exhibits show, we are, and have ever been, a nation of creators and innovators. We are all Jefferson's heirs and we are doomed sometimes to succeed and sometimes to fail. I was amused at the picture of the massive double circular kite that Alexander Graham Bell thought might compete with the Wright brothers. He would do very well on the Frisbee circuit today, I think, but it wasn't much of an airplane. But if he hadn't had the courage to try that, well, we might not have had the telephone. We must always maintain that spirit."

In discussing the importance of the exhibition to the Library, Dr. Billington said: "The Library of Congress houses the largest and most diverse collection of recorded knowledge ever assembled on earth. For almost 200 years, this collection has informed legislators, impressed scholars, and inspired creators. Now, with the grand reopening of the Jefferson Building, we have an appropriate venue to delight and inform millions of visitors with this exhibition. We hope that all Americans will come here to see the cultural patrimony that the Library of Congress holds in trust for them. And for those who cannot visit Washington, selected items from 'American Treasures of the Library of Congress' are available on-line as part of our continuing National Digital Library Program" at

Paul A. Allaire, chairman and chief executive officer of the Xerox Corporation, said: "Documents both historical and artistic speak eloquently long after their makers are gone. The Library of Congress is the perfect place to make these documents available. They are a symbol of democracy we often take for granted." The Xerox Foundation is supporting the preservation of many of the items in the show, so that they may be displayed safely. In addition, the foundation underwrote the construction of a self-contained display case with the most advanced environmental and security technology, for the Library's "top treasures." Because of preservation considerations, some of the more fragile documents will be displayed on a rotating basis. Although the objects will change from time to time, the Southwest Gallery and Pavilion will be permanently dedicated to the display of treasures from the Library's collections.

Harry N. Abrams Inc. has published a companion volume with an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills and a foreword by Dr. Billington. American Treasures in the Library of Congress: Memory/Reason/Imagination ($39.95) is available in the Library sales shops and wherever books are sold.

Exhibition hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Thomas Jefferson Building is at 10 First Street S.E. It is closed on Sundays and federal holidays.

An audio tour featuring selections from the audio- visual holdings of the Library, will enrich the visitor's experience with an array of memories. For example, listeners can hear both narration about and the actual voices of presidents, poets and other famous figures from the Library's audio collections, including Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Douglas MacArthur and Robert Frost. All groups of 10 or more are requested to call the Visitor Services Office at (202) 707-9779 to arrange a tour. For recorded information about the exhibition, call (202) 707-3834, (202) 707-6200 TTY.

# # #

PR 97-195
ISSN 0731-3527

Back to top