Capitol Discovery

Senate staffers come across a historic treasure in a dusty storage room

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According to a newspaper clipping pasted in the book, the journal came to the attention of the eighth secretary of the Senate in 1884, who ordered it rebound in the belief it ought to last several centuries longer "with proper care." But less than a century passed before someone, probably from the Disbursing Office, put it in storage in SSB1 (Senate Sub Basement 1), part of a suite of rooms built beneath the Capitol’s steps when the building’s East Front was extended in 1962.

As luck would have it the room—dark, dry and cool—proved reasonably friendly to old paper. Then, on November 1, Clare Amoruso went to SSB3 in search of the voting records of former Senator Walter F. Mondale, who had been tapped by the Democrats to run for the vacancy created by Senator Paul Wellstone’s death in an airplane crash a week earlier. (Mondale would lose that election to Norm Coleman.)

There she encountered an aide from the Capitol Architect’s office who told her that the storerooms in the subbasement would soon be demolished to make room for escalators to the new visitors’ center, now under construction. Amoruso returned two weeks later with Connolly to save some records. It was then that they discovered the ledger.

Since then, the book has traveled to the Library of Congress, where it was scanned, and then went on to the National Archives’ conservation laboratory. A digital facsimile of the ledger will soon appear on the Senate Web site,

Baker plans to display the book in the Senate visitors’ center, scheduled for completion in 2005, which means it will then reside within yards of where it sat in the dusty dark for decades.

"The book speaks volumes," Baker says, but it will take time for historians to unlock all its myriad secrets. "It will speak very slowly, having been silent for so long."


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