The Reel Story: In the fabulously cheesy Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster “National Treasure,” Nicolas Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, a treasure hunter bent on finding a stash of booty plundered from ancient Egypt. The priceless treasure, which Gates’ family has been seeking for decades, was brought to the States and hidden by the nation’s founding fathers … who happened to be in league with the ancient Knights Templar. They left a series of clues to the treasure’s location, including a map drawn in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
Obviously, the only course of action available to Gates is to break into the National Archives and steal the document. And, after lifting someone’s fingerprints, setting off a heat sensor and breaking through bulletproof glass, Gates liberates the document from the Archives’ “cleaning room.” All of this presents a very important question: How hard is it to steal the Declaration of Independence?
The Real Story: Anything is possible, but it certainly wouldn’t be easy. Housed at the National Archives since 1952, the Declaration has had a bumpy life — at one point it was even repaired with Scotch tape — but no one has ever attempted to break into the Archives and actually steal it.
It would be “very hard … impossible” to steal the document, explained Susan Cooper, a spokesperson for the National Archives. Designed expressly for the keeping and display of the Declaration and the U.S. Constitution, the Archives have displayed the documents since taking over their care from the Library of Congress. During the day, the Declaration is kept in an upright case of bulletproof glass and plastic laminate, surrounded with armed guards and monitored by camera and a computerized system. And as an extra precaution, the document is taken to an underground vault at night.
According to Cooper, no one has ever attempted to make off with the Declaration. Of course, it’s worth considering that without the supposed treasure map on the back, the document would probably be too “hot” to ever sell.
And as for the treasure map? The National Archives Web site has a large photo of the back of the Declaration, and even when one zooms in, all that is apparent are the words “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.” Sorry, treasure hunters!
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