NATIONAL TREASURE 2:
BOOK OF SECRETS (12/21/07)
There's a charming reverence for history in National Treasure:
Book of Secrets. Sure, there's a hidden treasure that everyone's
chasing. But the real prize is a place in history. Ben Gates (Nicolas
Cage) simply wants to salvage his ancestor's slandered reputation
for the history books. The bad guy (Ed Harris) just hopes to get
Every character here is a history geek. Ancient artifacts are more
valued than gold. Lincoln is reverently quoted. And even the President,
in a scene during which he's kidnapped by an affable Gates (stay
with me, here) proudly notes that he majored in historical architecture
So, no matter how crazy the plot gets (pretty crazy) or how strained
the historical allusions (very strained), that reverence reinforces
the film's message: History is valuable, in and of itself.
And, hey, it can also lead you to some pretty cool buried treasure.
For the curious among you, here are answers to some historical
questions raised by the film.
Q. Are there really missing pages from John Wilkes Booth's diary?
A. Yes. Eighteen pages are lost from Booth's diary. They've never
been found, and no one knows who tore them out. Was it Booth himself?
The detective who found the diary on Booth after he was killed?
Or maybe it was Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who had the diary
in his possession for two years?
One thing's for certain. It definitely wasn't Thomas Gates, the
fictional ancestor of our fictional hero.
Q. Was Booth part of the Knights of the Golden Circle?
A. It sounds made up, but the Knights of the Golden Circle did exist,
and Booth may well have been a member. A secret organization of
Southern sympathizers, the Knights of the Golden Circle got their
name from a cockeyed plan to annex territory in the Caribbean, Central
America, and Mexico as Southern states, thus creating a "golden
circle" of pro-slavery territory. Needless to say, it never
Q. Did Queen Victoria actively try to help the Confederates?
A. That part's a bit farfetched. It's true that many British were
Southern sympathizers. Also, England's lucrative textile industry
suffered from having their supply of Southern cotton cut off by
the Union blockade.
But any British sentiment to aid the Confederacy was tempered by
strong British opposition to slavery, a position shared by Queen
Victoria, who had reportedly wept over the slaves' plight in the
novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. And once the Emancipation Proclamation
in 1863 made clear that a Union win would spell the end of slavery,
British support for the South waned.
Q. Do the Resolute desks exist?
A. They do. As the film mentions, twin desks were carved from the
timbers of the British ship, Resolute. Queen Victoria kept one,
and sent the other as a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes in
1879. Since then, almost every President has used the Resolute desk
in the Oval Office.
Which brings up a wee plot problem. Not to quibble, but why would
Victoria have hidden secret messages to the Confederacy in a desk
she sent in 1879, fourteen years after the Confederacy ended?
Q. Is there a Secret Book, kept only for the President's viewing?
A. It's an urban legend that refuses to die -- that somewhere there
exists a top-secret book, containing the truth of every conspiracy
ever chattered about on the internet: Area 51, the moon landing,
But, come on. If the book did exist, wouldn't nosy reporters have
pried information on it from someone, sometime at the White House?
Secrets haven't been kept terribly well there over the years. Remember
Q. What does Cibola refer to?
A. Cibola was one of the fabled Lost Cities of Gold, rumored to
be somewhere in the New World. The Spanish spent a lot of energy
looking for it in the 16th century. Coronado and others wandered
around the Southwest and Florida asking Native Americans the location
of a great city of gold. Indians usually nodded sagely, then pointed
them a bit further down the road. Probably a savvy strategy to get
rid of bothersome Spaniards.
Q. Was Mount Rushmore actually built to conceal the existence
of a fabulous treasure?
A. Do I need to answer this one?
For the record, I can safely say that Mt. Rushmore does not have
a lost city of gold hidden somewhere behind its rock faces. Nor,
remembering the first National Treasure film, is there a treasure
trove located beneath Trinity Church in New York City.
I have to admit, though, that Nicolas Cage is making me question
whether I'm wasting my history degree. I mean, yeah, history is
valuable in and of itself, of course. But right now? I'm off to
find me a treasure map.
Cathy Schultz, Ph.D., is a history professor at the University
of St. Francis in Illinois and writes a syndicated column on historical