The National Archives’ Treasure Hunters

As this L.A. Times article notes, you might be shocked at the number and types of documents that have been stolen from the National Archives over the years.

When Paul Brachfeld took over as inspector general of the National Archives, guardian of the country’s most beloved treasures, he discovered the American people were being stolen blind.

The Wright Brothers 1903 Flying Machine patent application? Gone.

A copy of the Dec. 8, 1941 “Day of Infamy” speech autographed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and tied with a purple ribbon? Gone.

Target maps of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, war telegrams written by Abraham Lincoln and a scabbard and belt given to Harry S. Truman? Gone, gone and gone.

Citizens of a democracy must have access to their history, Brachfeld understood. But what kind of country leaves its attic door open, allowing its past to slip away? His solution: Assemble a team of national treasure hunters.

Having researched at the Library of Congress and National Archives II, I’m surprised that anyone could walk away from the reading rooms with one document, much less a cache of documents, that belongs to the American people. The security is extremely tight, and running the risk of getting caught seems foolish. Obviously, some people are willing to gamble with their freedom and find creative ways to walk away with unique and irreplaceable documents. For that temporary high or financial gain, we all suffer the loss of part of our history.

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