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tv   American Artifacts Arlington National Cemetery 1915 Memorabilia Box  CSPAN  January 3, 2021 2:50pm-3:16pm EST

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>> you are watching american history tv all weekend, every weekend, and on holidays too only on c-span3. >> in 1915, president woodrow wilson placed a memorial box -- a memorabilia box at arlington national cemetery. 105 years later, in april 2020,
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the box was carefully removed and opened to discover what was inside. next on american artifacts, we visit arlington to see the contents with cemetery historian tim frank and conservator caitlin smith. mr. frank: in order to talk you --his memory will about this memorabilia box and cornerstone, have to take you back to 1864 in order to bring you forward to 1915. in 1864, we buried the first soldier here, in may of 1864. one month later, the secretary of war set aside 200 acres to become a national cemetery. by the end of the civil war there were 15,000 union and confederate soldiers buried here and, in 1868, general john logan established decoration day, which he declared may 30 of every year. the idea was that, throughout the country, people would visit the graves of the civil war fallen and place flowers on those graves. decoration day became memorial
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day. it became so popular that in 1873, quartermaster general montgomery meigs designed a small amphitheater near the arlington house to hold the decoration day ceremonies. in time, that became such a small venue, because, every year, thousands of people would show up to arlington. one year, we found that 25,000 showed up to decorate the graves. so, in 1913, congress authorized this memorial we are standing 1915 -- we are standing in. in 1915, as part of laying the cornerstone, this memorabilia box was placed by woodrow wilson. he laid the first stone which now brings us to the memorabilia box and its history. ms. smith: when the memorial amphitheater began construction in 1915, construction dragged on for about five years. the amphitheater was actually dedicated in 1920. the building has largely been
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the same as it has been for 100 years, but there has been, over time, several modifications. one of the largest was in the 1970's, as the viewing of the chain being -- the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier became so popular. the steps in the plaza were expanded. when that expanded, the steps covered up the original cornerstone. so, in the 1970's a new false cavity and a new false cornerstone was added to the building. at that time, the memorabilia box was removed from the building during construction. it temporarily went to the national archives. it was there for about a year. it was then given back to the cemetery and stored. it was not until the 1990's that the box was put back into the building itself. there was other construction going on and they took the opportunity to place the box back into the building. then it wasn't revealed again
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until this year, 2020, when we were celebrating the anniversary of the memorial amphitheater's construction. we took the box out in april. just before the anniversary. because, with the covid-19 situation, the pandemic, the cemetery wanted to make sure we had the opportunity to let the public see the opening of the box. so, in preparation for the anniversary, we were doing an online exhibit. so we opened the box in april. and, by may, we had the online exhibit available to the general public. my role in opening the box was that i was one of a large team of anc staff. our historian, tim frank, really took the lead. he's the one who did a lot of the research into the memorabilia box, what was in it, what it was constructed of. i assisted with the opening of the box, with the opening of the cornerstone first, and then,
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once we had extracted the copper box from the cornerstone, we brought it here into the chapel. we created a clean space. ,nd a team of the historian myself, maintenance, our videographer, a photographer, were all there to document the opening to make sure that we had those records for posterity. we created a clean space here in the chapel. and we slowly and carefully opened the memorabilia box. so thanks to tim's research we had some idea of what would be inside the memorabilia box but there were still some unknowns. the box was, as expected, copper. that's what you see in front of me. this is actually the outer box. this is all we knew. tim had taken this box to our welcome center and our x-ray machine to see if he could find out what was inside. we had some idea of where the -- of what the objects were but we were not certain. when i began opening the box i
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began with a series of holes that i drilled into one of the corners. we gradually opened a larger hole until we could insert a borescope into the box and see what was inside. once we put that inside, we realized there was a second copper box. and we were relieved to find everything appeared to be in good condition inside. so, knowing that there were no historical objects in the way, we went ahead and move forward -- moved forward with cutting open the outer box. we began mostly with aviation snips, clipping along the edge, along what was the original solder line.-- those boxes are very well constructed. they are out of copper fodder on the corners. there is a lip where the lid sits inside. this was soldered shut with
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lead. we cut along the line of the solder and we were able to pry open the lid, open it up with pliers, and reveal the box inside. did findas opened, we there was a little bit of moisture, so the seals along the edges of the box had opened up a little bit, but there was no major damage. there was some plateglass inside. we had suspected -- we believe there to be glass inside. -- believed there to be glass inside. we just did not know how much. what we found were little glass spacers. these were to give space between the boxes. there were also some metal straps holding the inner box in place so it would not wiggle around too much. we removed the glass, we removed the straps, and while i held the box and pulled out the inner box. inner box was in slightly better shape.
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the seal had held up to a greater degree. for this when we took extra care. we started cutting with stainless steel blades and saws along the solder line. we opened one corner first, so that we could again stick the borescope in and make sure the historical objects were in good condition. we wanted to make sure we were not going to cut into any of the objects. we opened up a corner. first look, everything looked great. everything looked dry. there was no major sign of damage. we could see everything had fell to the bottom and we could cut the top off safely. so we continued cutting with stainless steel blades. and eventually we did use a metal cut-off wheel on a rotary tool to cut along the solder line and remove the lid. and with that, tim and i were the first to see these objects in 105 years. and, to our relief, the inner
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box had held up and everything was dry, colorful. no signs of mussed or insect orage -- signs of must insect damage or any real degradation. that's when we began the process of carefully pulling everything out. it took about 2.5 hours to carefully open the two copper boxes. after that, we spent an additional hour carefully removing each historical object and placing it into archival containers and having ourselves and our photographer document carefully the condition of each object before we unwrapped and started revealing them. i think one of the surprises was how good of condition everything was in. everything was will -- well sealed. there were so many things that could have gone wrong they box like this. mr. frank: i have to say, throughout the process of caitlin opening the box, i thought my chest was going to explode.
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i just did not know what the contents would be. what they would look like. we knew what was in there, but, like caitlin said, all sorts of things could have gone wrong with water damage. that one point, someone said, is that water at the bottom of the box? i just about fell over. so when caitlin finished cutting the lid of the inside box and she peeled back the lid, the first thing that struck me was the condition and care that they took to put these items in a -- and in 1915. just about everything was just about everything was wrapped in tissue or wax paper. the flag was rolled up and tied carefully. everything looked like it went in yesterday. that is what struck me. i could not wait to get in and unwrap each item. for a historian, it is a
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once-in-a-lifetime experience. the first items we took out where the plate glass. we really were not sure, the way the newspaper articles described it at the time it sounded like there was plateglass all the way around the inner box. these metal bands were there to hold it out so we took the box out. the first item was placed on the outer box. it is a metal plate with the names of all the members of the memorial amphitheater commission. and this lay on the outer box in the replica cornerstone. that's really the first artifact that we took off and conserved. when we opened the box we started seeing what was important to them. we saw an advance copy of the program for the laying of the cornerstone.
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they would have sealed all of this up the day before. we found coins and stamps that were in circulation. at the time, colonel william hartz, who is buried here, he retired as brigadier general. he was a disbursement officer of the commission, and so he contributed some coins. the post office contributed stamps. there was a boyd city directory from 1915. and it is interesting, it is kind of like the yellow pages today. advertisers could place their advertisement on the spine or the edge on the front or back covers. we had an official program from the grand army of the republic encampment that had just taken place. that ended on october 2, 1915. so, a lot of the civil war union veterans stayed in town for the
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laying of the cornerstone, since this was the inspiration of the civil war veterans. judge ivory in particular is buried at the cemetery. there was a copy of the declaration of independence. a copy of the constitution. it was before prohibition and before women had the right to vote. there was a u.s. flag that happened to be 46 stars, instead of 48. there's a congressional directory and there were some congressional hearings on the memorial amphitheater. president wilson presented an autographed photograph of himself. the memorial amphitheater commission had added a confederate veteran in the public buildings act of 1915. his contribution was a list of confederate dead. ms. smith: the architect was thomas hastings. the architect donated several items to the memorabilia box. for one, he donated the early plans.
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these are a little too brittle to unfold. they were wrapped in red tape, that's where the term comes from, from records being wrapped in -- it is really string. and he included a letter which went with the plans. we have images of the original drawings, which showed the original structure looks different. it went through several iterations with a smaller reception building, only one story instead of two, a sculpture on the east plaza. this is before the tomb of the unknown. some things stayed the same. this open arcade, the greek plan. this very grand beaux arts style, which was the height of style in the 20's. the building is meant to look like a greek amphitheater in the grand beaux arts style. it has the mast of the maine, commemorating the latest war america had suffered through.
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the architects also included a bible. hastings had a grandfather who wrote hymns, and his father was a presbyterian clergymen and his -- so it's maybe unsurprising that he donated this bible. inside is his signature. on october 1, hastings donated this bible. it is bookmarked, we are not sure why, to the book of joshua. right before the memorabilia box was put together and sealed, someone's job was to run into d.c. and grab the four major papers from the day before. the papers are all dated october 12. the memorabilia box was installed on october 13.
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this is a great snapshot in time, of what was on everyone's mind when the box was put in place. only one of these four papers still exists. that would be the post. the others were subsumed by it or, when they went under, the post bought their equipment. it is a great snapshot. the headlines are still we still talk about today. you've got, remember when the copy of the constitution was put in the box? there were a few amendments missing. we just celebrated the anniversary of the 19th amendment. so you have suffragists stirring up trouble all over the news. you have wilson's impending wedding being covered. remember, at this point we have not yet entered the war. once we enter world war i, the construction of this building really slows down and impacts it in a wide variety of ways. the nation is dramatically changed.
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there is hints of the war to come, but obviously america has not entered the war. so you will see headlines related to bulgarians begin attack on serbia, and other references to fighting overseas. mr. frank: it kind of like the boyd city directory with everybody trying to vie for attention on the covers and spines. a cigar and tobacco shop owner stamped his ad on the newspapers. i could picture some army officer buying newspapers for the memorabilia box. he was located on pennsylvania avenue. when i look through these newspapers i see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. we have the world series sports news. at that time, there was an anthrax scare. so, hope for life in the new serum. washington scientists rushed to
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new york anthrax patient. the agriculture department comes to rescue quickly. we have, the fight is on to close the bar at army/navy club. wilson would check gossip over wedding. bulgarians begin attack in serbia. wilson seeks way to finance defense. you know, it is just amazing. to sit here and read these, and also the condition they were in. they really did take great care in making sure that we were here to open this, and not pull out a box of shredded memorabilia. this is pierre l'enfant's plan for washington, d.c.. he is buried in arlington, overlooking the city that he designed. this is the map of the permanent system of highways for the district of columbia. it was dated 1914. you will notice that the arlington reservation is right
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here -- fort meyer is right here. one of the items not on the inventory, but we knew was here, is a list of confederate dead. people ask me why is this list included? 1915 was the 50th anniversary of the civil war. and you had these civil war union and confederate veterans reconciling. there was a big push to reconcile between the north and the south, and arlington was a centerpiece of the reconciliation. the public buildings act of the 1950's added a confederate, beale. he placed the list of confederate dead as the union veterans placed their program. another thing i point out is that, if you look at the original drawings, there was a statue planned. but all of that went by the wayside in november of 1920.
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just months after this building was dedicated, the british and french interred their soldiers from world war i. the american people read about the ceremonies in london and paris. in particular, there was a full-page article in a newspaper describing a warrior's funeral in london. the king presided lords and , ladies were present, victoria cross recipients were present, and veterans from all over the world had attaches that attended. so, the american people started writing to congress and the war department saying, we should honor an unknown soldier here at arlington. so the unknown american soldier was buried here in arlington where that statue would have been. there was a personal attachment -- another reason i could not wait to get into the box was because of the boyd city directory.
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it actually had my grandfather listed in there, robert d. frank, clerk, district of columbia. he worked for the d.c. government. i was looking at the franks and the lansdale's and harrington's and other family members that were here in dc at the time. i found lansdale's, but not my great grandparents on my grandmother's side. i did find my great grandfather, robert frank, listed. robert, clerk, district, 607 columbia road, northwest. when the original memorabilia log came back from the archives it was placed in a safe. in 1990, the superintendent, ray constanzo, he was in the 82nd airborne in world war ii. he made the determination that it was time to put it back in the amphitheater. the previous story and said he got a 10 minute notice.
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they called up and said we were going to put it near the cornerstone. grabbed the peter pan peanut so he looked around andgrabbed the peter pan peanut butter jar and those who participated in the ceremony placed their business cards in the jar and put some coins in and a letter, from mr. costanzo and then they , sealed up the replica cornerstone. we do plan to put a memorabilia box in the replica cornerstone to be opened in 2120 by the employees of arlington national cemetery. it is going to include a declaration of independence and a copy of the constitution provided by the national archives. the tomb guards are going to provide their identification badge. the caisson platoon is going to provide their case on horstman's badge. the arlington ladies will provide a letter. we want all of those who have a hand in arlington national cemetery -- we are an active cemetery, so we want everyone who plays a part in that to have a role in this new memorabilia box. ms. smith: so, our new
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memorabilia box -- or time capsule -- will be of slightly different materials. we will go with something that represents our time. we are going with a stainless steel box. instead of soldering it closed, it will have a sealed gasket, and be bolted closed. we will also have some modern decoration. this box had a bronze plaque on top. you're going to have laser engraving on our lid with the anc seal. and the year to be opened. we are going to use slightly different technology, hopefully, to try to keep the condition in our box supportive for the objects. we are going to try to get the temperature and humidity right, and dry out the environment. so we are going to try to remove some of the oxygen, put desiccant and absorbers in there. we may even flush out some of the oxygen. we are going to also wrap our
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objects, like they did for the original memorabilia box, but ours are going to be more modern. archival materials, corrosion inhibitors, and separation between our objects. so, a similar idea, but with more modern materials. a lot of the objects placed in the memorabilia box are not necessarily unique or high-value. they were what the members of the committee felt represented their time best. so, there is no secret treasure in the box. what it shows is, how people felt about themselves at the time. what they wanted to be remembered for. that they felt they were a part of something important and that is the same urge that we feel today to throw together something that represents us.
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