A tap on the shoulder from a long-dead nurse

The National Museum of Civil War Medicine is publicizing, on its web site, its plan to turn the original Missing Soldiers Office of Clara Barton into a museum.

Clara Barton was a Civil War nurse and founder of the American Red Cross; she established the Missing Soldiers Office—technically the “Office of Correspondence with the Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army”—in 1865.  Its building still stands, at 437½ Seventh St. NW, Washington D.C.  Once scheduled for demolition, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine plans to preserve it.


The museum credits Richard Lyons, a General Services Administration construction contractor in Washington, for discovering the long-abandoned office in 1996, but – as other similar reports have done – it omits a key detail about the find.

The Museum’s site states that Lyons “made a fluke discovery” when “he noticed an envelope dangling between the ceiling slats on the third floor.”  But there is more to the story than that . . .

(A description of Lyons’s discovery on the Civil War Librarian blog blurs the event even more:

“ The suite of rooms was discovered in 1997 as GSA workers were preparing the building for demolition.”

http://civilwarlibrarian.blogspot.com/2010/12/news-bartons-dc-office-of-missing.html )

Lyons himself described the find better, as reported by Linda Wheeler in The Washington Post on August 10, 2006:

“I remember it was the night before Thanksgiving, and I came here to check the roof,” [Lyons] said as he stood in the soft light of the seven-foot windows that once lighted Barton’s office. “I was by myself. I heard something in the back, but when I checked, I didn’t find anything. There weren’t any lights here, and I was using my flashlight.

“Then someone tapped me on my shoulder. I thought it was one of my co-workers come by to help me, but there was no one there. It was then that I saw the envelope stuck up by the ceiling.”


Who tapped him on the shoulder?

Clara Barton, by the way, resided for a time on that third floor of 437½ Seventh St. NW.  She was a strong woman who lived to be 90 and, among other things, identified 22,000 men while working in that office.  It would not be like her to allow the office to be forgotten and demolished.



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