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Seeing the country at the National Archives

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By Wayne Lazarus on December 17th, 2009

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

Many people never give the National Archives a thought, unless they happen to be researching their ancestry. But in Kansas City you can hear audio clips from the FBI’s surveillance of local mobsters, see a counterfeit fifty-cent bill, and an autographed picture of Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky posing with a group of young Americans. The items, as well as the signatures of Abraham Lincoln, Sitting Bull and the Birdman of Alcatraz are a part of the It’s Big exhibit, about the big events, ideas and personalities from both the Central Plains region and the country’s history.

Nebraska settlers in front of a sod house

Nebraska settlers in front of a sod house

Among the other interesting items to be found at the Kansas City location is the true story of Billie Frechette, girl friend of John Dillinger, as dramatized recently in the film Public Enemy starring Johnny Depp. A member of the Menominee tribe, Frechette grew up on a reservation and, as documented by the records here, was a good student at the Indian boarding school.

It’s Big closes in January, but it will be followed in March by a traveling exhibition from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum called Deadly Medicine: Creating a Master Race, about Nazi racial cleansing programs. The exhibit is in partnership with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education. In June, the Central Plains archives will host Documented Rights: A Symposium on the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, which is currently on display at the National Archives in Atlanta. This display includes the 1844 slave manifest of the brig Alo and documentation from the five cases that made up the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court case that changed education in the United States.

The Kansas City location is one of 13 facilities nationwide where people can access public documents. Each location has archival records from the state sin its region. In 2009, the National Archives celebrated its 75th anniversary throughout the country with special events. To find a location near you, check the national web site, then look for exhibits, displays and lectures that the facility is planning.

(Photo courtesy Kansas City National Archives. Used with permission.)

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