Visitors 'moved,' 'impressed' by Bill of Rights exhibit 3-day stay in Baltimore begins for touring display

December 10, 1990|By Thom Loverro

Visitors who came to yesterday's opening of the Baltimore stop on the Bill of Rights tour, the Philip Morris-sponsored exhibit at the Baltimore Convention Center, were greeted at the center's entrance with a litany of what they could not do:

"Sorry, firearms, knives, mace and tear gas are prohibited in the exhibit."

"Sorry, food and drink are prohibited in the exhibit."

"No strollers are allowed in the pavilion."

"We reserve the right to refuse anyone admission."

Despite those restrictions, the spirit of freedom was the stirring theme of this traveling high-technology road show displaying an original copy of the Bill of Rights commemorating the 200th anniversary of the document's ratification.

Baltimore is the 10th stop in the 50-state, 16-month multimedia tour that will end Feb. 9, 1992, in Richmond, Va., the home of the Virginia copy of the Bill or Rights that is being shown in the exhibit. The Bill of Rights was officially ratified when the 11th state, Virginia, approved it Dec. 15, 1791. Each state and the federal government received a copy.

The Baltimore show, which runs through tomorrow, is a visually compelling display of the Bill of Rights, featuring a 15,000-square-foot exhibit with video monitors showing a variety of rights-related clips from films and news events. Visitors see the display as they walk through a maze bathed in colored lights and lined with banners and exhibits, all commemorating the rights spelled out in the document.

Toward the end, visitors are led into one of two small, round rooms, each with a round, glass-covered case in the middle. The document travels from one room to the other in a robotic sled under the floor.

The Bill of Rights copy, in a capsule with nitrogen to preserve it, is raised to the glass for all to see while trumpet-blaring music plays and a deep, resounding voice announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Bill of Rights of the United States of America."

The document then rotates slowly until the music stops, the lights go out and the document is lowered to the sled and moved to the other viewing room.

It made a strong impression on the hundreds of people who turned out to see the exhibit yesterday. "It was excellent," said Priscilla Hicks of Linthicum. "It was well-organized and very moving."

Judy Wild of Savage expected little except the showing of a dusty historic document. She was pleasantly surprised. "It was a lot better than I thought it would be," she said. "It really hits you how important this was. It makes you think a lot."

Gene Pacicarelli, a language teacher at Dulaney High School, said the exhibit illustrates how important the Bill of Rights is to the nation. "The care involved in this shows that it really means something," he said.

"This really shows an incredible amount of care and upkeep. I've been to other countries and never seen such preservation efforts. This is just so fundamental to our society. It's the foothold of our foundation and our freedoms. This tour shows the importance of that."

Pamela Milne of Randallstown said the exhibit was "impressive, almost to the point of being breathtaking. It really makes you appreciate what we have here in this country."

The question of motives -- Philip Morris Cos. Inc., whose brands include Marlboro cigarettes, is sponsoring the tour while the controversy between the rights of smokers and non-smokers rages on -- did not seem to matter to yesterday's visitors.

"That never even crossed my mind," Ms. Milne said. "If they want to sponsor something like this and make it available to everyone, why not? It's all part of the American way."

Taggarty Patrick, spokeswoman for Philip Morris, said tour officials have heard few negative comments from people who have seen the exhibit -- to date, about 140,000.

Ms. Patrick said she did not have an estimate on the cost of the tour, but Philip Morris' three-year commemoration of the Bill of Rights' bicentennial celebration, which includes television commercials and free copies of the documents sent out to more than 3 million people who requested them, will cost the company about $60 million.

Protests are expected today, when the International Commission for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Drug Dependency in Silver Spring plans to unveil a 15-foot "Statue of Nicotina" at 3 p.m. on the Sharp Street side of the Convention Center. The statue has been set up at previous tour stops by anti-smoking groups objecting to the tobacco company's sponsorship.

In Connecticut, the state's chapter of the American Lung Association held its own low-budget counterexhibit of the document in November. They moved the state of Connecticut's copy from the state library to the Old State House in Hartford.

There have also been protests at stops in Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine and New York.

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