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Archive for Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Original copy of Declaration of Independence displayed in Abilene

April 26, 2011

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— An original copy of the Declaration of Independence went on display Tuesday at an Abilene museum as part of a national tour organized by television producer Norman Lear.

Lear, who produced such 1970s comedies as "All in the Family and "Maude," spent a decade organizing the tour, which features a copy of the Declaration of Independence that he bought in 2000 for $8.14 million. It will be on display Wednesday at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum as well, and then move on to other sites.

Lear's copy is one of 200 printed on July 4, 1776, and distributed to the 13 colonies declaring their independence from Britain. Only about 25 copies still exist, and Lear's is one of the few considered in pristine condition, The Salina Journal reported. It is officially owned by the Lear Family Foundation.

Lear, 88, said he organized the national multimedia tour to encourage Americans, particularly young people, to vote and become politically active.

"We don't have civics being taught in school very much," he said. "When I reflect on how my generation felt about the Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, it was another feeling about life and country. Unless families are talking about it, kids now are not picking it up, at all, because it's not on television and it's not in the schools."

Lear unveiled the document at the museum Monday and it was formally delivered by horseback rider Tuesday morning. It will be displayed from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. The museum will has exhibits on the Revolutionary War, voter registration, historical re-enactors and an oversized replica of the Declaration for visitors to sign.

Eisenhower museum director Karl Weissenbach said he expects hundreds of visitors to see the exhibit, including students from about 40 Kansas school districts.

"It's a cornerstone document for our country," Weissenbach said. "To use the document to reach the youth of today is one of the goals we had. It'll be entertaining and educational, not only for youth but adults, as well."

Lear, a World War II veteran and political activist, said it's essential that young people see the documents that helped create and define their country.

"I don't see any personal benefit, beyond sharing it," he said. "I've had the best time of my life watching people see it."

Lear's copy predates the original signed Declaration of Independence stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., which wasn't completely signed by members of the Continental Congress until August 1776.

The 200 unsigned printed copies were run by printer John Dunlap in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, and rushed by horseback to the 13 colonies.

Lear's copy was discovered in 1989 by a Philadelphia man under a picture he bought for $4 at a flea market. Lear bought it in an online auction.

So far, the document has been to 44 states, some multiple times. Lear intends to have it visit every state. When it's not traveling, Lear said, the document is stored in a safe in Los Angeles.

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