With the upcoming presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, 2005, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History invites visitors to learn more about the nation’s highest office by visiting three special exhibitions: “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden,” “First Ladies: Political Role and Public Image;” and “Vote: The Machinery of Democracy.” Many of the objects in these exhibitions highlight the fashion, tradition and grandeur of presidential inaugurations. Also, an original of the first printing of the Declaration of Independence will be on temporary display in “The American Presidency.”
“A presidential inauguration is not only an official ceremony but also a celebration of the unique character of American democracy,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History.
- Beginning Jan. 14, 2005, the museum will display an original printed copy of the Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and commissioned John Dunlap to print copies for distribution. Historians do not know how many of these broadside copies were printed, and this pristine copy is one of only 25 known to exist. This important document was the foundation and guiding principles for the new nation and has served to inspire future generations in America and around the world. The document is on loan from the University of Virginia Library and collector Albert H. Small. Its display at the entrance of “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden,” through March 6, 2005 is made possible by The History Channel.
- The permanent exhibition, “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden,” explores the personal, public, ceremonial and executive actions of the 42 men who have had a huge impact on the course of history in the past 200 years. More than 900 objects, including national treasures from the Smithsonian’s vast presidential collections, bring to life the role of the presidency in American culture. Among the exhibition highlights are Thomas Jefferson’s wooden lap desk on which he wrote the Declaration of Independence, the carriage Ulysses S. Grant rode to his second inauguration and Laura Bush’s red Chantilly lace and silk satin gown from the 2001 inaugural ball. On special display for a limited time will be one of the oldest pieces in the museum’s political history collection, a hand-painted banner celebrating the 1801 inauguration of Thomas Jefferson. Visitors can also step behind a podium and read from a teleprompter to deliver their own inaugural address.
- The museum will present two newly introduced items once owned by Jacqueline Kennedy for special display in “First Ladies: Political Role and Public Image.” The first is a new donation to the museum’s first ladies collection, a triple strand necklace of faux pearls worn by Kennedy. This necklace was donated to the collection by Lynda and Stewart Resnick and The Franklin Mint. In addition, going on display for the first time will be a pink and white satin evening gown with beaded bodice designed by Oleg Cassini and worn by Kennedy. This was one of more than 300 outfits designed by Cassini for Kennedy during his time as her official designer. •“First Ladies: Political Role and Public Image” explores the various roles of the nation’s first ladies and the public’s expectation and perception of them. This exhibition examines the demanding duties of presidential partner and national hostess, explores how her role has grown from ceremonial partner to one of international celebrity and recognized political power, and illustrates the importance of the first lady’s public image to the success of a presidential administration. Visitors can view the inaugural gowns of 13 first ladies, from Lucretia Garfield’s gown worn in 1881 to Hillary Clinton’s 1993 gown, as well as other clothes and objects worn and used by first ladies.
- “Vote: The Machinery of Democracy” examines how Americans have historically adopted new voting techniques as a result of the political, social and technological changes in the country. The exhibition portrays the history of voting using artifacts such as a wooden ballot box from the 1850s, a paste pot and Democratic Party ballot from the 1880s, a 1944 automatic voting machine model and a Votomatic with a butterfly ballot from the 2000 Florida presidential election. The exhibition also features hands-on voting activities that allow visitors to cast ballots using a ballot box, a gear and lever voting machine or a Datavote punch card voting machine. This exhibition runs through Jan. 30, 2005.
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The National Museum of American History traces American heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and technological history. Collections are displayed in exhibitions that interpret the American experience from Colonial times to the present. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at http://americanhistory.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000.