THE WORKING LIFE

Preserving America's Paper Trail

Jane Fitzgerald, a manager at the National Archives, gets to pore over the originals of documents the rest of us read about in history books.
Jane Fitzgerald, a manager at the National Archives, gets to pore over the originals of documents the rest of us read about in history books. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

A few jobs are simply outstanding. Others stand out because they're unusual, virtually invisible or incredibly tedious. Most of us go to work five days a week, but just what "work" means has countless definitions.

We are on a secret tier deep inside the granite-and-limestone, bronze-doored fortress of the National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Jane Fitzgerald has buzzed security, identified herself and alerted it that she will be opening two vaults. She's spun the combination lock on the first vault and is now working on the second. The hallway is spare and empty. She is one of only four people allowed in here unescorted.

An avid history fan, I wonder aloud what's inside.

"Ahhh," she says. "You will see."

She laughs and continues to work the combination.

When the door clunks open, she goes in and closes it behind her. There are alarms within that must be turned off.

"Okay," she says, emerging, "come on in."

We enter a large room with huge concrete beams and rows of metal shelves.

These are the archives' new vaults, and Fitzgerald, 45, is their manager. She has a quick walk, rimless glasses and a steady gaze. Daily, in these confines, she sees marvelous things.

Elsewhere in the building, under the massive rotunda, the archives' superstars -- the handwritten Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights -- are on public view.

But here, in climate-controlled concrete quiet, reside the seldom-seen jewels of U.S. history.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity