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New Library of Congress exhibit spotlights rare historical artifacts

Washington — Housed inside the Library of Congress, the nation's oldest federal cultural institution, is a treasure trove from past and present in the new "Collecting Memories" exhibit which opened this week.  

"What we want people to get from looking at just a sample, a small sample of the treasures of the Library of Congress, is these are their memories," Librarian Carla Hayden told CBS News. "These are their items. It is the nation's library."

The exhibit showcases rare artifacts spanning centuries of history — beginning with a handwritten draft of President Abraham Lincoln's historic Gettysburg Address in 1863, and a photo of Lincoln from that day.

"That's the only photo we have, or anybody has, of him at Gettysburg," Hayden said.

The exhibit also has the contents of Lincoln's pockets from the night he was assassinated, including a pocket watch, two pairs of glasses, a handkerchief, and a billfold with his name.  

There's also a crystal flute first lady Dolly Madison saved when the White House was burned by the British in 1814, made famous again after pop star Lizzo visited the library and played it at one of her concerts in September 2022.

"After Ms. Lizzo played that flute, we had a teacher contact us and said, 'I think there'll be more children who want to play the flute after seeing that,'" Hayden said. "…It took off, and people said, 'What else does the Library of Congress have?'"
With more than 178 million items, the library narrowed down the exhibition to just over 100 of its most prized possessions, including Oscar Hammerstein's "Do-Re-Mi" lyric sheet from "The Sound of Music," the original Spiderman drawings, the designs from the Washington Monument and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the sewing machine used to construct the AIDS Memorial quilt.

"These are the things that we want everyone to be able to see," Hayden said. "You don't have to be the president of the United States. You don't have to be a visiting ambassador…You can see it, it's free, and you can have that pinch me moment."

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