Explorer’s Night at the Archives: A History Sleepover

Today’s post comes from Caela Murphy, summer intern in our Education and Public Programs Division.

Pacing the stage in a blue army coat and pantaloons, Meriwether Lewis issued a warning to participants during the orientation program for the National Archives’ second “History, Heroes & Treasures” overnight. There would be no eating outside of the food area, he said, as he had learned from experience that unwrapped food can attract bears to a campsite.

Arctic explorers Matthew Henson and Louise Arner Boyd cut the captain off.

“Captain Lewis,” they begged, “not with the bear stories again!”

The Rotunda before lights out

More than 100 people gathered at the National Archives in Washington, DC, for the sleepover two weekends ago.

In keeping with the event’s “Explorer’s Night” theme, children ages 8–12 and their parents roamed the museum’s exhibit and theater levels, where various activity stations were set up. These included a craft project in which visitors created journals to document their expeditions, a board game that took players through the boons and obstacles that the members of the Corps of Discovery faced during their westward journey, a scavenger hunt in the museum’s Public Vaults, and more.Playing the Lewis and Clark board game

From dressing up as explorers for a photo shoot to determining what supplies they would need to pack for different kinds of expeditions, families were introduced to the triumphs and challenges of exploring in the West, the Arctic, and outer space.

The participants were not alone in their endeavors—Lewis, Henson, and Boyd were stationed throughout the museum to answer questions and regale guests with stories from their voyages. Later on in the evening, families assembled in the theater once more for “Reporter on the Spot,” a program that allowed children to interview the three explorers in front of a “live studio audience.”Reporter on the Spot

After listening to stories and watching Pixar shorts, visitors retired to the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom to go to sleep. In the morning, they packed up and made their way to the lower level for a special treat: chocolate chip pancakes cooked by David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States. Families then received gift bags and began their journeys home—some were local, while others had come from as far away as California for the event.

Photographs from the event can be found on the National Archives Flickr page. The National Archives looks forward to its next sleepover, also focusing on exploration, coming up this October. For more information, check out the website of the Foundation for the National Archives.


History, Heroes & Treasures is made possible in part by the Foundation for the National Archives through the support of John Hancock Financial; Ridgewells Catering; Control Video; American Heritage Chocolate; Mars, Incorporated; The Coca-Cola Company; Minute Maid; and DASANI.

2 thoughts on “Explorer’s Night at the Archives: A History Sleepover

  1. Great program! I am interested in talking with the folks that set up the “Night at the Archives” to understand the logistics and activities planned with the goal of proposing this to our management for consideration.

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