To finish out Day 2 in Washington, D.C., our group met back up at the National Archives Museum. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, & the Bill of Rights are America’s most treasured documents & are on display in the National Archives Rotunda. Collectively, these are known as the “Charters of Freedom”.
Just like in the movie, the security for these treasured documents is extremely tight. There’s a security checkpoint to get inside the building, which includes a walk-through scanner as well as a bag check. As you get closer to the Rotunda, you pass by several security guards & then more are posted inside the Rotunda, including one on each side of the Declaration of Independence. The documents themselves are protected by temperature & humidity-controlled display cases that appear to be made of impenetrable steel & bulletproof glass.
These documents are very sensitive to elements, including light, so the lighting in the Rotunda is low to help preserve these precious documents. Time & exposure to light & oxygen has resulted in the normal aging of these documents, which makes them very hard to read. The Declaration of Independence is extremely difficult to ready anything other than a few of the signatures, including the familiar script of John Hancock.
Adorning the walls of the Rotunda are two enormous paintings known as the Faulkner Murals. They were completed in 1936 by artist Barry Faulkner & convey the spirit of democracy and demonstrate the differing opinions on American government that went into drafting the Declaration and the Constitution. The men in both the Declaration and Constitution murals are grouped according to committee and opinion. There are pedestals in the Rotunda that help to identify the figures in each of the murals.
The Declaration mural imagines the moment that the Declaration of Independence was formally presented to the Continental Congress. The men in the Declaration mural are grouped according to committee and opinion. To illustrate the time period in which the documents were created, Faulkner added a stormy sky in Declaration symbolizing the coming of war.One of the other members of our group told us that there’s supposed to be a “hidden” image of Abraham Lincoln in this mural. Just under the tree, behind some of the figures, the storm clouds resemble the profile of Abraham Lincoln if he were lying down. I never would have noticed if someone hadn’t pointed it out, but it actually does look like Lincoln’s profile. This is supposed to demonstrate the connections between America’s early and later history, and to reinforce the National Archives’ mission to preserve and present this history.
The Constitution mural shows James Madison giving the Constitution to George Washington. In contrast to the Declaration, the skies in Constitution are clear, showing how the document was written in a time of peace and unity among the states. To further this theme, Faulkner also included the flags of the 13 original states.
There are many other displays & collections in the National Archives, but these Charters of Freedom are definitely the highlight. We briefly strolled through the rest of the museum & saw some cool pieces from our nation’s history, but by this point we had our fill of looking at “old stuff” & were ready for dinner & pool time at the hotel.