Senate History Found One Pass at a Time

The Senate Curator's Office is building a complete set of all the visitor's gallery passes issued since 1868.

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ILLUSTRATION BY JOE CIARDIELLO FOR USN&WRIf you've ever visited the United States Senate to watch members gab on the floor, then you recall getting a visitor's gallery pass from your senator's office. Nothing fancy, just a card or sticker with the senator's signature stamped on it. Well, it wasn't always that way. Starting with the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, the passes have ranged from elaborate cards to today's sticker. Most were tossed in the trash or keepsake boxes. But now the Senate Curator's Office is building a complete set of all those passes.

Associate Curator Melinda Smith has pulled together a remarkable collection representing 58 of the 107 times passes were printed from 1890 to 2008. "They help paint a bigger picture of how this process worked," she says. It's hard work finding donors. And luck plays a role. New Yorker Floyd Landis, a Senate page in 1942, was going through old papers in his attic recently when he came across a pristine set. "I guess I was sort of a pack rat," Landis, 80, tells us. He buzzed the Senate, and a deal was made. "I was finally glad to unload it in a place where it had a good home and would be appreciated," he says. "And I had a sigh of relief: one less thing for my executor to go through," he adds with a laugh. Smith says the gift helped fill many gaps in the collection, and she hopes it will spark copycats. "We would really like to have some more donations," she says.