Let me get this off my chest. One of the time honored reasons to visit Washington, DC, the National Archives, is almost unavailable six months of the year because of me, and those like me. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are all housed in the here; some might even call it our National Treasure. In addition to being protected by a titanium, aluminum, and glass encasement, surrounded by argon gas, and guarded by armed guards, the Charters of Freedom, as they are often collectively called, enjoy one additional protection from the casual tourist: the incredibly long lines of school kids brought to the Archives by jackass tour guides, such as myself.
Now, as far as seeing the Charters go, I offer no apology. It's their Democracy too, and perhaps it's even more important that the jaded eighth grader see these documents than those of us who already know their importance. Which, incidentally, is why I value National Treasure, the movie. While making no pretense towards actual history, it provides an "in" for my school kids; a gateway to make connections to a test question answer they may have never really pondered.
No, my apology to you is that these same school kids prevent you from sampling so much else that is available at the Archives. For myself, after I release the kids to wait in the line for the Rotunda (where the Charters are displayed), I duck into the Public Vaults exhibit. It's a well crafted permanent display of a small sample of some of the other 9 million records the Archives keep. As a former Naval Officer, I am still struck dumb by the deck log of the USS Nevada, opened to December 7th, 1941. Every time I've seen it, it brings home the reality of that day in a way some multi-million dollar Hollywood extravagance never has (and no, I will not link to THAT movie). Having signed hundreds of deck logs in my time, it still gives me the chills when I see how little has changed. Except, of course, I wasn't dodging torpedo bombers when I filled out mine.
The Archives also puts together top-rate temporary exhibits. Big!, opening this weekend, celebrates the Archives 75th anniversary and large items from our history, including a 13 foot scroll of the Articles of Confederation. I'm looking forward to seeing the giant map of Gettysburg and I'll tell you how it is once I've seen it. The archives has a nice little theater downstairs, as well, and I particularly like the cafeteria. Nothing special, and it's not really big enough for me to bring groups to, but it's good for a family looking to get a reasonable bite to eat. And check out the Boeing Learning Center, it's got a lot of interesting activities for middle and high school students.
I'll also note that the Archives has a procedure for making reservations. One of the first things I do when I get my tour group's itinerary is to see if I have a reservation for the Archives. It makes life so much easier. I've never attempted to do this for an individual or a family group, but if someone does, let me know how it works.
So, I am sorry that you have to wait in that God-awful line to see the other excellent exhibits at the National Archives. I wish they had a separate "Rotunda" line, for those seeing the Charters. But if you happen to be walking by and there's no one out front, take a few minutes to duck in and see the rest of the Archives. Yes, even if you've already seen the Declaration of Independence.