“National treasure” was the theme of our Cub Scout day camp this summer. As I am a member of the planning committee, I spent a good deal of time thinking about what kinds of national treasures to try to work into the camp program. National parks? Natural resources? Our flag? Our history? Our people?
Mostly we focused on nature and the national parks. I spent evenings coming up with clues, then ideas where to hide the clues, and more clues to point to those hiding places. Since I didn’t work with the Scouts directly during camp, and my own son was at College for Kids instead of camp, I never did hear how well some of my clues worked out.
I figured a yellow crayon and a stone should be a fairly easy reference to Yellowstone. That one was for the youngest group; the older boys had to figure out that a picture of a bald man’s head, a feather, and a quarter were clues to “bald eagle” (the only answer that wasn’t a national park). For Mount Rushmore, they got a picture of a mountain, and three coins: a penny, a nickel, and a quarter. I was going to include a dime, then someone pointed out that it had the head of the wrong Roosevelt.
The theme for today’s July 4 parade was “Stars and Stripes Forever.” At the last Cub Scout pack meeting, some of us expressed an interest in making a float for the parade, and I was wondering if there was a way to somehow show the history of the American flag. But I was too busy with day camp to work on it. So were other parents, I guess. The boys just walked next to a trailer pulled by an old (1945) tractor, handing out ice pops to the children along the route. (Another float in the parade did display the history of the flag.)
Today we celebrate one of our nation’s greatest treasures – the commitment to liberty embodied in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was at once an eloquent statement of values around which the new country would form, and a bold political action that set in motion the battle for America’s self-government. Googling for more information on this historic document, I was happy to find this website at the National Archives: The Declaration of Independence: Our National Treasure.
You can learn facts about the Declaration of Independence (Is there anything written on the back of the Declaration of Independence? Yes), go on a virtual treasure hunt in history, and download images such as this one for your computer.
I also learned another bit of historical trivia yesterday, from the Wall Street Journal. Thomas Jefferson took quite an interest in codes and ciphers (if you follow the treasure hunt above, you’ll learn about his cipher wheel). A mathematics professor sent Jefferson a coded message, an example of a cipher so difficult that decoding it would “defy the united ingenuity of the whole human race.”
For over 200 years the message remained a mystery. But two years ago another mathematician, aided by computers to speed his work, was able to finally solve the puzzle. Mr. Patterson had written to Thomas Jefferson these words:
In Congress, July Fourth, one thousand seven hundred and seventy six. A declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled. When in the course of human events…
So there’s not a coded message on the back of the Declaration of Independence. But it is linked to a cipher only recently solved by a determined man. It might not have made a gripping enough story for the producers of National Treasure, but but it has the advantage of being true.