Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The secret labyrinth beneath the Saratoga Spa State Park

In the darkness of night and under police escort 27,000 rare books, prints and manuscripts were moved from the library in Manhattan to the labyrinth-like basement beneath The Hall of Springs.

The attack on Pearl Harbor had occured a few months earlier, and that spring German U-boats roamed the Atlantic Coast.

President Roosevelt, serving his second term in The White House, grew increasingly concerned for the safety of some of the country's greatest historical possessions.

In May 1942 he ordered them moved to a secret location in the Spa State Park in Saratoga, where FDR was instrumental in creating a European-style spa, with which he had become familiar several years earlier while serving as senator and governor of New York.

Among the collection: the original, handwritten manuscript of George Washington's Farewell Address, a 15th century Gutenberg Bible, an assortment of documents from signers of the Declaration of Independence, and a letter from Christopher Columbus dated 1493, announcing the discovery of the New World.

The documents were secured in two locked vaults located beneath The Hall of Springs where they would safely remain for the next 2- 1/2 years, before they were returned to Manhattan at the end of the war. The vaults still exist in the labyrinth-like basement in the Spa State Park, a few dozen yards from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and are currently used as storage areas for things like dishes and silverware for weddings and fundraising events staged in the hall upstairs.

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