Hun­dreds view his­tory with awe, re­spect

Amer­ica’s ‘birth cer­tifi­cate’ stops here on na­tional tour

The Commercial Appeal - - Local News - By Jody Cal­la­han

Wendy Wil­liams brought her chil­dren in from Cor­dova to see it.

Ron Reid took a late lunch so he could pay his re­spects. Vann Bai­ley did the same.

They and hun­dreds of oth­ers con- verged on the Ben­jamin L. Hooks Cen­tral Li­brary to see what many call the na­tion’s “birth cer­tifi­cate.”

One of the orig­i­nal copies of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence was on dis­play in Mem­phis for a few hours Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

It’s part of a na­tion­wide tour spon­sored by De­clare Your­self, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, and the Cricket wire­less com­pany.

The goal: to en­cour­age peo­ple, es­pe­cially young Amer­i­cans, to take part in the po­lit­i­cal process.

“It’s show­ing (peo­ple) the birth cer­tifi­cate of the coun­try, let­ting them see it,” said De­clare Your­self’s Brent Miller, on tour with the doc­u­ment.

“It’s hav­ing it come to them in­stead of hav­ing to go see it in an in­sti­tu­tion.”

That’s what brought Wil­liams and her chil­dren to the li­brary.

“This is once in a life­time,” she said, want­ing to show Avery, 5, and Carter,

8, that “the Fourth of July is not just fire­works.”

The chil­dren seemed to en­joy the dis­play, even if they weren’t cer­tain what all the hoopla was about.

Carter, for ex­am­ple, knew that the Dec­la­ra­tion had “a lot of words on it ,” al­though he thought “the pa­per’s go­ing to be wrin­kled, since it’s so old.”

But when he walked up to the dis­play, Carter saw that the pa­per is in much bet­ter con­di­tion than one might ex­pect for a piece of parch­ment that’s 232 years old. “It’s cool,” Avery said. Reid was also shocked at the Dec­la­ra­tion’s con­di­tion.

“I thought, ‘Wait a minute, that can’t be that old,’ ” he said. “It was mov­ing. That’s about the only thing I could say.”

Ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous pub­lished re­ports, this copy of the Dec­la­ra­tion was found in 1989 by a Philadel­phia man visit­ing a flea mar­ket in Adamstown, Pa.

For $4, the man — he has never been iden­ti­fied but has been called a fi­nan­cial an­a­lyst — bought a paint­ing. At some point af­ter­ward, he dis­cov­ered the Dec­la­ra­tion hid­den inside the pic­ture frame. Some have spec­u­lated that it was hid­den there so many years ago to pro­tect it from the Bri­tish.

Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, it was a copy of what is called the “Dun­lop Broad­side,” just the 25th known to still ex­ist.

Af­ter the orig­i­nal Dec­la­ra­tion was signed by the 56 rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the Sec­ond Con­ti­nen­tal Congress, Philadel­phia printer John Dunlap hur­riedly pressed a few hun­dred print­ings of the doc­u­ment on July 4, 1776.

Many of the copies were rushed through­out the orig­i­nal colonies to be read to the peo­ple. Vir­tu­ally all are thought to have been lost or de­stroyed, and of the 25 that re­main, most are in li­braries or in­sti­tu­tions.

Television pro­ducer Norman Lear bought this copy at auc­tion in 2000, pay­ing $8.14 mil­lion. He then launched a se­ries of na­tion­wide tours to let peo­ple see the Dec­la­ra­tion.

This is the sec­ond time it has been to Mem­phis, hav­ing been on dis­play for a day at Mem­phis Univer­sity School in 2004.

Vic­tor Smith wasn’t even aware that the Dec­la­ra­tion was at the li­brary Wed­nes­day un­til he walked in. He quickly left to get his son.

“It’s a doc­u­ment, man, that has so much power,” he said. “It was a pow­er­ful doc­u­ment then and it’s a pow­er­ful doc­u­ment now.”

Jim We­ber/The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

This 1776 copy of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence was inside a pic­ture frame bought at a flea mar­ket for $4. TV mogul Norman Lear bought it at auc­tion for $8.14 mil­lion.

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