On Monday I was in the remote town of Culpeper, Virginia, visiting a secret government warehouse and laboratory operated by the Library of Congress.
I’m gonna let that lead breathe for a minute.
Tucked inside Pony Mountain on the outskirts of Culpeper sits the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, part of the National Audio Visual Conservation Center of the aforementioned Library of Congress. Picture Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It’s never open, and I’ve never seen any person or Oompa-Loompa walk in or out of there. But this past Monday I had a golden ticket to enter through its massive iron gate and traverse its cavernous halls.
They called it an “open house,” though the metal detectors, security officers, and barricaded sections made it feel a little less open than I would have liked. Still, though, just seeing the mountains of film and audio recording housed in the facility (think the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark) was something to behold. The tour guides described a little of what they did there, but for the most part their work remains shrouded in mystery. They collect, they store, they refurbish, they preserve. And pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
I’d told my son the Willy Wonka line to pique his interest, but honestly the Indiana Jones comparison was more apt. There was no chocolate river, no lickable wallpaper, no giant golden eggs. Just a lot of boxes, presumably with treasures inside. They did open one or two, revealing contents that hadn’t been preserved. Broken records and disintegrated celluloid. A fine dust similar to the contents of the Ark of the Covenant, actually, to use another Raiders reference. I told Franklin not to look.
At the end of the tour there was no fanfare, no prize, no gifted factory, no ride in a Wonkavator. Just the door and a good day, sir.
At least I left on my feet and not to some Oompa-Loompa song.