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Worth Preserving

The first lady's recent tour of East Coast historical sites highlighted the wealth of such sites, and the problems of protecting them.

Mrs. Clinton spent some time at the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, N.J. It houses prototype inventions, lab notes, and early recordings made by America's preeminent technological genius. Thomas Edison's work changed everyone's life, but the working record of his life, stashed in boxes and corners, has never received the care it deserves.

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Not that the National Park Service, which administers the site, wouldn't like to do the job right. But its backlog of needed repairs to historical sites and other buildings is $1.2 billion. Its prospective budget allows $50 million for historic preservation.

At Mrs. Clinton's urging, General Electric, appropriately, is donating $5 million to restore one building and protect the papers at the Edison labs.

Other corporations and individuals might consider what they can do to safeguard the country's historical legacy. This includes those of humbler means, too. The first lady made a point of noting that local people, even children with their pennies, can help preserve monuments in towns and cities. Many grandparents remember how their pennies helped restore the frigate "Old Ironsides," a historic treasure threatened with destruction in the early 1930s until saved by a national fund-raising drive.

Why preserve artifacts of the past? Two reasons come to mind: (1) to remind us where we've been and the progress that's been made and (2) to remind us that fundamental issues and aspirations, from liberty to invention, are constants.

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