Last night my friend John Cady and I went to go see the Emancipation Proclamation — the original — which was on view last night at The Henry Ford — as part of a special Civil War exhibit, created with the National Archives. Now, as a member of The Henry Ford, I’ve been there many times, but this traveling “Discovering the Civil War” exhibit is brand new, so…
The EP — which is normally kept secure deep inside the Archives in DC — is only on view for a total of 36 hours per calendar year, due to damage and degredation caused primarily by light. We were told that typically it’s shown for special events — 6 hours here, 4 hours there… but only for a total of 36 hours in a given year. Since this special Civil War exhibit was going on, The Henry Ford was fortunate enough to get all of the EP’s 2011’s hours allocated for the Museum. It won’t see the light of day anywhere else this year.
So… The Henry Ford set up this free, vigil-like 36 hour window for folks to come and see it — started Monday at 6pm, and ended this morning at 6am. The museum was open round the clock for that time, for free — and you could tour all of the museum exhibits if you so desired. The only previous time the museum was open for 24 hours or longer was when Henry Ford himself lay in repose sometime in the 40’s.
And people showed up. In droves. News reports yesterday afternoon said that some people were waiting three hours or longer to see it. I have waited for an iPhone for seven hours; I figured if I couldn’t wait for the EP for three then there’s something wrong with me.
So, John and I figured we’d check it out; after grabbing dinner we headed over to the museum and made our way in around 9pm:
We were told that the wait was approximately SEVEN hours. Figuring that to be a case of overestimation, we got in line anyway, figuring that it probably wouldn’t be much longer than four or so hours… after all, people wouldn’t wait that long, would they?
The line snaked around much of the museum.
A little while after we had been in line, the estimate was increased to eight hours. At 10:30pm the line was closed, so that everyone in line might be able to see the document, ’cause once 6am came — no matter who was in line — the EP would be removed and returned to its blackened vault.
It was like one of those amusement park lines that just keeps on going… after one huge zig-zag that took three hours to complete, there was a long straightaway…
… and another zig-zag… about the same size as the first one. That above shot was snapped around 1:30 or so. I was amazed at the makeup of the crowd. Old folks in wheelchairs, little kids no older than seven, all races. The group behind us were two african-american couples, the folks in front of us were a white family reading a Sarah Palin book they had brought to pass the time. At one end of the space, Ken Burns’ The Civil War was showing on a big screen; we joked that they had ample time to run the whole series like three times.
Luckily, I didn’t have any pressing work for the morning, and John was able to reschedule a 10am meeting, so we committed to the duration. iPhones and iPads were of great diversionary value.
We got to this point – the EP is just around the corner in this room, surrounded by cops — about 3:45 in the AM.Once inside, photography is prohibited — no surprise there — and after a brief orientation, people could spend as much time gazing on it as they wished, mere inches away from the EP in its glass case. There was no real need to read the document — everyone was given a copy of the text as they entered the museum, anyway — and since the original was double-sided, we only saw two of the actual faces of the document. Apparently they rotate document faces from engagement to engagement… so in actuality, the document is exposed to direct light for 36 hours every two years. The other sides were presented in facsimile copies, nicely done.
The best part was that of the actual sides we saw, one was the signature of Lincoln, along with Secretary of State Seward, and the official seal which was embossed with ribbons — sort of in advanced decay — embedded in the seal.It might have been the hour, but one couldn’t help but get slightly verklempt upon viewing this very important piece of American history.
And here’s a shot taken at 4:06 or so… with at least two hours of people left in line. Note the folks passed out on the couches!
All in all, very cool, a neat event for the museum, and worth the time. I got home by 5am and passed out in seconds.
Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Very cool. Thanks for sharing, J.