East Rotunda Gallery

Featured Document Exhibit

The National Archives Museum’s “Featured Documents” exhibit is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation.

Currently on Exhibit in the East Rotunda Gallery
April 30 – June 3, 2015

Sketch Showing Lifeboats Stowed and Secured on Board the RMS Lusitania

“Passengers be damned; save yourself first”
100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the RMS Lusitania

There was chaos aboard the rapidly sinking Lusitania when many of the passenger ship’s poorly designed lifeboats proved impossible to lower and launch. As part of witness testimony during the subsequent court proceedings, passenger James Leary described an altercation with a crewman as the ship was sinking. Leary recounted, “I thought, according to law, passengers first.” The crewman replied, “Passengers be damned; save yourself first.”

Taking just 18 minutes to sink, the Lusitania disaster resulted in the deaths of passengers and crew when only six of the ship’s lifeboats were successfully deployed.  A drawing of the lifeboat used in the Lusitania liability case illustrates the challenges faced by those on board.

Sketch Showing Lifeboats Stowed and Secured on Board the RMS Lusitania
Sketch Showing Lifeboats Stowed and Secured on Board the RMS Lusitania, 12/6/1917
National Archives, Records of District Courts of the United States

 


Upcoming Featured Documents

1774 Articles of Association

In honor of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, we present the rarely-viewed Articles of Association issued by the Continental Congress in response to the Intolerable Acts. Like Magna Carta, this act sought to assert the primacy of rights over arbitrary government.
East Rotunda Gallery, June 4 through July 29, 2015.

 


Previous Featured Documents

Report of Assistant Surgeon Charles A. Leale concerning the death of President Abraham Lincoln

There was a doctor in the house the night President Lincoln was assassinated—Dr. Charles A. Leale, a recently employed surgeon at the U.S. Army General Hospital. Six weeks out of medical school, the 23-year-old doctor went to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, hoping to catch a glimpse of President Lincoln. In the course of the evening, he found himself attempting to remove a bullet from the President’s skull. Leale was the first medical professional to arrive at the wounded President’s side. His report of the events of that evening takes us to the scene of a crime that irreversibly altered the future of the United States.

Report of Assistant Surgeon Charles A. Leale concerning the death of A. Lincoln (page 1)
Report of Assistant Surgeon Charles A. Leale concerning the death of A. Lincoln (page 1)
National Archives, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office

 

Unbroken: Records from Louis Zamperini’s Incredible World War II Story

On May 27, 1943, Army Air Force bombardier Louis “Louie” Zamperini’s B-24 airplane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. The former U.S. Olympian survived, only to face months adrift at sea and years as a Japanese POW. His fate unknown in the U.S., Louie was declared dead a year and a day after his plane went down and was “posthumously” awarded a Purple Heart. Louie’s Purple Heart medal (on loan courtesy of Laura Hillenbrand, author of UNBROKEN), copies of the certificate awarding him the Purple Heart and a condolence letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Zamperini family will be on display. Miraculously, Zamperini survived and was liberated at the end of the war.

Letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Zamperini family
Letter (copy) from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Zamperini family after Louis was mistakenly declared deceased, May 28, 1944.
National Archives, National Archives at St. Louis

Certificate (copy) awarding the Purple Heart medal to Louis Silvie Zamperini
Certificate (copy) awarding the Purple Heart medal to Louis Silvie Zamperini after he was mistakenly declared deceased, October 12, 1944.
National Archives, National Archives at St. Louis

 

George Washington’s First Annual Message

In celebration of the 225th anniversary of the First Congress, the first Journal of the House of Representatives is on display, showing the final page of George Washington's State of the Union speech. With this speech, delivered on January 8, 1790, Washington established the precedent of delivering a formal address to Congress to report on the state of the Union. He praised the accomplishments of the First Congress and gave a brief overview of his administration’s agenda. The President emphasized the need to provide for the common defense; establish uniform systems of currency, weights, and measures; and promote education.

President George Washington’s first annual message to Congress, January 8, 1790
House Journal of the First Congress, Second Session, showing the final page of President George Washington’s first annual message to Congress, January 8, 1790

Surrender? “Nuts!” Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's 1944 Christmas Message to his Troops

In mid-December 1944, Allied forces were surprised by a massive German offensive through the Ardennes Forrest that created a “bulge” in the Allied lines. On Christmas Eve, 1944, Gen. Anthony McAuliffe sent a message to his men besieged in Bastogne, Belgium. Bastogne was a key road junction that had to be held at all cost. The message recounts McAuliffe's famous reply of "Nuts!" to a German demand to surrender and the announcement of an American counterattack. The National Archives presents this document display in celebration of Veterans' Day and in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's 1944 Christmas Message to his Troops
Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's Christmas Message, December 24, 1944
National Archives, Records of the Adjutant General's Office

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This exhibition was created by the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, with support from the the National Archives Foundation.

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