March 10, 2011


Jack in the Pulpit, EPA.

It’s always a surprise to find out that our tax money doesn’t just go for endless upkeep, but that we actually own some things.  Among them are vast repositories of documents, museums full of stuff and amazing archives of photographs, drawings and paintings.

The National Archives alone takes care of 10 billion documents for us, among them military, immigration and census records that are a gold mine for genealogists and original documents that historians crave, like letters from doctors sent to Indian reservations during the great influenza epidemic of 1918. (More on that tomorrow – the first case of Spanish flu appeared in March.)

The Archives also manage all the presidential libraries.

The Department of the Interior is another nice place to visit – it includes the Parks Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Fish and Wildlife has a good photo archive here. If it’s air quality that concerns you, you can check on 15 different locations in the US via the Park Service’s webcams – the sunset in Mount Rainier National Park was pretty spectacular last night.

NOAA art library, watercolor by A.H.Baldwin

Noodling around from site to site, however, led me to a small gem at – of all places  – the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, which has a museum collection all its own.  For decades, NOAA has been involved in exploration as it surveyed around the continent.

In many instances professional artists accompanied field survey crews of the Coast and Geodetic Survey and the operations of the Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries.  In other instances, scientists and engineers were outstanding artists who recorded their work as part of day-to-day operations.

Those government employees contributed dozens of beautiful images of what they saw and all are preserved in NOAA’s art library.

All this surfing turned out to be an inductive route towards the mother ship: and Images.  Start there and pick a link that interests you – though the Smithsonian could be a little less high-hat about usage.  And some departments need new site design.

But there is certainly enough to be getting on with, no matter what your interest.  The venerable Library of Congress is unsurpassed for historical material, but various departments have more recent and much prettier pictures. Here are some Lake Michigan dunes from the EPA, which is busy restoring habitats like this:

Indiana dunes south of Lake Michigan, EPA photo.





  1. I LOVE seeing our taxes going to support such riches!!! Thanks for broadening my appreciation!


    Comment by Celia Carroll — March 10, 2011 @ 8:10 am | Reply

  2. Lovely!Beautiful! & Fantastic!!! thank you Jean


    Comment by avery — March 10, 2011 @ 8:15 am | Reply

  3. Very edifying!
    That Indiana site is where my mother used to take us every summer.


    Comment by GALYA TARMU — March 10, 2011 @ 9:49 am | Reply

  4. Our highschool “Ditch Day” took place at Indiana Dunes State Park every wonderful year of it. Beautiful fun!


    Comment by Carol — March 10, 2011 @ 10:59 am | Reply

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