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Nov 01

Digital Exploration

Posted by: skinsel in Rediscovering Americana


Living inside the beltway is not a requirement for experiencing the rich collection of American culture available around the nation’s capitol. Yes, it’s true in the coming weeks that my travels to local museums and Government agencies would earn me a lot of metro travel rewards points-if they were offered-but I really want to showcase that you can create this same experience with a few click of the mouse.

Underneath the strictly informational façade of Government agency Web sites is a whole world of access to digital collections that contain some really fascinating artifacts. These national treasures presented below are greatly appreciated and made available by the staff and contract support of the U.S. National Park Service (NPS)-Museum Management Program and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The American Presidents and First Ladies virtual museum exhibits highlight the life and times of four U.S. Presidents—Lincoln, Eisenhower, Roosevelt, and Truman—and their wives. Presidential house tours are brought to life with high-resolution images and zoom-and-pan functions. My favorite room to view is the formal dining room of President Eisenhower with its crystal chandelier, red upholstered high back chairs, and polished silver. It reminds me of the University of Pittsburgh’s 17-18 century Austrian nationality room where I had a semester of class. After clicking on a room located in the house a description of its purpose is provided, which completes the full house tour experience.

While touring President Truman’s collection I came across a sweet reward for virtual exploration—Bess’s recipe cards. Using the recipe translation below the handwritten card, I decided to whip up a batch of coconut cookies as a fun experience in retro-Americana cooking. The recipe called for rolling the mixture thin but my batter had a looser consistency so my only option was to scoop it out of the mixing bowl onto parchment paper. The cookies were surprisingly tasty, a little on the sugary side. View the recipe card along side my cookie results below.

Bess Truman's recipe card for coconut cookies.

Voila! Bess's coconut cookies à la Stacey.

Eyewitness American Originals from the National Archives provides access to a selection of gripping first-person narratives surrounding important events in American history. Most of the personal reactions and stories include a variety of multimedia available including photos, videos, and audio. The eyewitness contents are sectioned into 9 categories listed below:

  • Confrontations For Justice
  • Scenes From Hell
  • Free At Last
  • Passing Of An Era
  • Fallen Leaders
  • Leaders In Crisis
  • War At Sea
  • Personal Encounters
  • America On The Move

One of the accounts under the section ‘Scenes From Hell’ is an excerpt from a propaganda video featuring U.S. Navy Commander Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr. during his time as a captive inside a Hanoi Prison in 1966 in which the commander blinked the word “torture” in Morse code. I am both amazed by this ingenuity and that his message was received by the Naval Intelligence community.

NARA also provides access to many types of historical documents such as the Apollo 11 flight plan and Thomas Edison’s light bulb patent application.

My next blog post will as I highlight to the exhibits and memorials dedicated to the African American community.

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