One of the most personally stirring activities for any visitor to Washington, D.C., is a stop at the National Archives to look at this nation's founding documents - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.
That the documents, handwritten on animal-skin parchment, have survived intact for more than 200 years is nothing short of amazing. And now steps are being taken to ensure that these icons of American history are preserved indefinitely.
The bad news for tourists and history buffs is that the documents are being removed from public view for two years as the archives building's grand marble rotunda is renovated. At the same time, the glass covering the parchment is being replaced with high-tech material made by Pilkington Plc, Toledo's former Libbey-Owens-Ford Co.
The documents have been covered since 1952 with L-O-F-made glass, but archives officials noticed several years ago that the material was beginning to deteriorate and could become opaque. The replacement glass, known by the trademark Optiwhite, is made at a Pilkington facility in Germany.
In today's global economy, it is little more than an historic irony that Pilkington, a British-based firm, is providing the material to protect the documents marking independence of the United States of America from Great Britain, starting with the declaration on July 4, 1776, and continuing with the Constitution in 1787 and the Bill of Rights in 1791.
Appropriate to a revolution fought for the rights of all people, a steep walkway and stairs leading to the display cases at the archives will be demolished in favor of a floor-level exhibit easily accessible by small children and the handicapped. The new display will include the second and third pages of the Constitution, previously locked away in a vault.
Viewing the actual texts of the fundamental political principles that make our country great is an awe-inspiring moment for visitors to the capital. While it is regrettable that an estimated 1 million people a year won't be able to see the documents while the renovation is under way, the project is necessary to protect and preserve for all time these tangible links to the birth of a nation.
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