Museum to display Banneker artifacts Owner will allow objects to be shown for 20 years

January 04, 1997|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A happy ending is in sight for the planned Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum in Oella, outbid at auction last fall for valuable artifacts once owned by the noted African-American astronomer and inventor.

Next week, the Virginia-based investment banker who paid $85,000 for a table, candlesticks, documents and other items is expected to sign an agreement allowing the museum to display the artifacts for 20 years.

The agreement between Emanuel J. Friedman and museum organizers will bring to a close months of negotiations over the future of the artifacts, which were once housed in Banneker's Oella log cabin.

"I'm very excited," Friedman said yesterday. "I've worked closely with the group and have been pleased with all of their hard work."

Because a fire destroyed the home of Banneker -- dubbed "America's first black man of science" -- few of his belongings exist today.

Items auctioned in Bethesda in September came from a descendant of the Ellicotts, a white family that forged a strong friendship with the scientist, who died in 1806.

Among them: a maple and pine drop-leaf table believed to have been lent to Banneker by the Ellicott family, two candlesticks and a candle mold, a ledger from the Ellicott & Co. general store noting purchases by Banneker, and several documents and letters pertaining to Banneker and the Ellicotts.

Organizers of the museum, which has been in the planning stages for more than a decade, formed a consortium to buy the items.

But Friedman, chairman of Friedman, Billings and Ramsey, a Rosslyn, Va., investment house, shocked consortium members by outbidding them. After his winning bids, Friedman suggested that a loan or other arrangement might be reached with the fledgling Banneker museum.

Jean Walsh, a member of the Friends of Benjamin Banneker Historical Park, said she would be happy to see the artifacts find a home at the museum.

"As long as it all works out as it's being planned, I think it's wonderful," said Walsh, one of the original backers of the project. "It was just most magnanimous of him to want to keep it all together."

Friedman, a history buff, donated the artifacts to a Civil War monument and visitors center being built by his friend Frank Smith Jr., a Washington councilman.

He said the entire collection, which includes other items of Banneker's period that did not relate to him, will be part of a Black History exhibit at The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. They will then be turned over to the Banneker-Douglas Museum in Annapolis, until construction of the Oella museum is completed.

The planned $2.5 million Banneker museum and park, which is expected to be finished by spring 1998, is being built on Banneker's 100-acre homestead.

Banneker grew up on the land, which was purchased by his father in 1737, and it was there he became a self-taught mathematician, astronomer, inventor and almanac author.

Pub Date: 1/04/97

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