This year, I saw two Independence Day-themed exhibits, of which it would be easy to categorize one as real and one as not, except that, technically, both are “real.” Or maybe one is just as much a figment of meaning-projection as the other. I can’t decide.
The first display was at the New York Public Library, which was showing an original draft of the Declaration of Independence, as written by Thomas Jefferson, along with one of the original 14 copies of the proposed Bill of Rights. Both these documents are extremely rare, and the Library has never exhibited them together before. Because they're so fragile, they were on display for only three days, July 1–3.
I went to see them after work on Tuesday, when the library was open late, and stood in line for 45 minutes, which was totally worth it. It’s hard to write about the experience without sounding like a Frank Capra film. The crowd was large and diverse, and noticeably respectful. Even standing in line, everybody was polite and patient, which is something I don’t recall ever experiencing in an NYC queue before. The crowd fanned out once we were admitted to the room where the documents were in three displays: Jefferson's two-sheet (front and back) Declaration, sandwiched in glass inside two separate vitrines, so you could read all four pages; and the large, printed Bill of Rights (one of only 14 original copies known to exist) laid on a slanted backing inside another, much larger display case. Even though people were allowed to crowd around the displays at will, there was no bad behavior that I saw: Everyone waited patiently for their turn and looked as long as they liked.