Prepare to lose an afternoon or three: The Library of Congress announced today that it has digitized hundreds of hours of film and is making them available for viewing, free of charge, on its new “National Screening Room” website.

Care to check out home movies of Liza Minnelli’s second birthday party, hosted by Ira Gershwin? Thomas Edison footage of Coney Island at night, circa 1905? LBJ’s “Daisy” political spot with the little girl and the nuke (pictured above)? Have at them.

“The National Screening Room is designed to open up the Library’s collections,” said curator Mike Mashon, head of the Library’s Moving Image Section, “making otherwise unavailable movies freely accessible to viewers nationwide and around the world.”

With more than 1.6 million items in its collection, the Library of Congress calls itself “the largest and most comprehensive archive of moving images in the world.” Today’s announcement initiates the first phase of the National Screening Room project, which so far includes 281 titles covering fiction, non-fiction, newsreels and even home movies spanning the years 1890 to 1999.

New content will be added to the screening room every month.

Judy Garland, Liza Minelli
Library of Congress

Today’s announcement coincides with the 120th anniversary of George Gershwin’s birth, with the screening room spotlighting 17 home movies filmed by George and Ira Gershwin between 1928 and 1939.

“The Gershwin home movies, long held in Ira Gershwin’s Beverly Hills archive, contain amazing images of interest to historians and fans alike,” said Michael Owen, consulting archivist of the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts.

Other highlighted features in today’s announcement include:

  • 33 issues of the “All-American News” (1942-1945), a newsreel made specifically for African-American audiences during the mid-20th century;
  • 103 titles from the Library’s Paper Prints Collection, including several shorts directed by D. W. Griffith for Biograph Company;
  • Historical and iconic figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley, Frank Sinatra, Mary McLeod Bethune, Adam Clayton Powell and Art Carney;
  • Titles named to the National Film Registry because of their cultural, historical and aesthetic significance;
  • A selection of films about mental health released in the 1950s.

Check it out here, and plan on getting lost for a while.