Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Declaration of Independence Hits the Road

Did you know that the Declaration of Independence that you normally see - with the giant JOHN HANCOCK at the bottom - is not the original? I never knew this!

When the original handwritten Declaration was completed on July 4th, 1776, it was immediately sent to the printing shop of John Dunlap. He printed off about 200 copies of this document which were then distributed throughout the thirteen colonies to spread the word of what the Continental Congress was trying to do - break free of England. It was only later - in August - that a ceremonial draft of the Declaration was created and actually signed by many of the men who wrote it. It actually took several years to get all fifty-six signatures. This is the copy which we normally see and which is now kept in the National Archives. The handwritten original was lost.

The copies made by John Dunlap are now known as Dunlap Broadsides. Until 1984 only 24 copies of Dunlap Broadsides were known to exist. Around that time, someone bought a painting at a flea market for four dollars. Later on while inspecting a tear in the backing of the painting, the purchaser discovered an original Dunlap Broadside tucked in behind the paper.

I would have said, "Oh look, someone tucked one of those fake Declarations you can buy in DC gift shops back here." And I probably would have tossed it out. That may be what happened to the other 175 copies of it.

Fortunately, the person who discovered it had more sense than I do and thought to have it appraised.

In 2000, Norman Lear bought it for just over eight million dollars. That's eight million dollars. Not a bad little profit for a $4 flea market purchase.

This particular Dunlap Broadside is now traveling the country. It came to Pearl Harbor for a couple of days and we decided to go see it.

Pretty cool to see a copy of the Declaration of Independence that is actually older than the one with all the signatures.

While there we watched a video starring Reese Witherspoon which explained all the pertinent info about the history of the Dunlap Broadside.

I like her. She's smart. And pretty. And she doesn't pose naked.

There was also a video of many famous actors reading the Declaration of Independence. I don't know when this was filmed, but it must have been a long time ago. Mel Gibson and Michael Douglas both have brown hair. And I don't even recognize some of the people in it, although clearly they must have been famous considering the company they are in.

My kids found the entire experience profoundly boring but they enjoyed getting to talk to their friends who were also dragged there.

But one day they will be dragging their children to see fascinating bits of history.

And I will be vindicated!

1 comment:

  1. you just taught me something new.