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“Look at that,” exclaims Librarian of Congress James Billington, pointing to a rare photo of a dour-faced Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” on her 86th birthday. “Errr. She’s trampling out the vineyards right there. See these women in the 19th century, they were pretty tough.”
The photograph — showing Howe standing upright (a highly unusual pose for her) — was one of dozens of previously uninventoried items on display during a special, one-day internal exhibit of artifacts unearthed by Library of Congress interns this summer. Culled from the LOC’s copyright deposits, some of the materials hadn’t seen the light of day for more than a century.
The scene inside Room 119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building on Tuesday morning invokes something of a mix between a Christmas bazaar and a middle school science fair. Instead of holiday frippery or exploding volcanos and solar system models, however, there are old radio scripts, opera scores and vaudeville posters.
A jovial Billington plays the role of proud parent as he makes his way through the room of interns eager to show off the results of a summer spent digging through the Library’s hidden treasures.
“These are our explorers,” Billington says, surveying the room.
It’s the second year the Library has sponsored the 10-week Junior Fellows Summer Intern program, bringing college students to Washington, D.C., to locate and inventory materials that have come to the Library through the copyright deposit system. (Since 1870, the U.S. Copyright Office, which requires copyright applicants to provide two copies of their creation, has been part of the Library.) This year, more than 200 students competed for 25 slots.
Like all good adventurers, the interns were forced to brave the elements. For the pair working for the U.S. Copyright Office, that meant sifting through boxes of files filled with coal dust, a remnant from the days when they were stored in the basement of the Jefferson Building, then heated with coal-burning furnaces.
“Our hands would be black. We’d have to wash them every 20 minutes,” says Erin Van Clay, a 28-year-old intern who attends graduate school at Florida State University.
“Our mouth would taste like coal,” interjects 25-year-old Andrew Hunt, her fellow intern in the copyright office and a graduate student in archives and records management at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
“It was super fun,” an enthusiastic Van Clay adds.
Speaking of good times, Billington’s tour of the exhibit also elicits plenty of chuckles.
“Me Tarzan, Me Jane,” Billington laughs upon seeing a typescript for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan of the Apes.” “Remember, those were the most famous lines.