In 1965, the art historian Francis V. O’Connor went in search of artworks created as part of the Federal Art Project for an exhibition about the WPA artists. O’Connor was particularly interested in locating posters. The murals, sculptures, and photographs created by artists under the auspices of the WPA were easier to find. The posters, innately ephemeral, were harder to recover. On the morning of February 15, 1966, as he recounts in Posters of the WPA, O’Connor joined Dr. Alan Fern, then chief of the prints and photographs division, at the Library of Congress. Fern escorted the art historian up “a very dusty, cobweb-festooned, spiral staircase until we came to a heavy door” at the entrance to one of the library’s corner towers.
“Unlocked,” he goes on, “this [door] creaked open to reveal sinister sights and sounds: a large, musty, circular room...stuffed with saw-horse tables heaped with ancient circus posters.” Amid the circus posters and some roosting pigeons, O’Connor and Fern found a large wooden case with a WPA shipping label on it. When pried open, it revealed a cache of immaculate posters. “Of all the art and documentation from this period I have discovered dirtying my hands in unlikely places,” O’Connor wrote, “this find was the most unforgettable.”