Lt. Kenneth Ecker of the University of Maryland Police stands… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
The modest-looking document travels with a team of security guards and a historian and sits behind bullet-proof glass in a climate-controlled and light-protected environment. One of only 26 known original copies of the Declaration of Independence, it was on hand Monday at the University of Maryland, College Park to help launch a National History Day celebration.
The event showcases the history projects of middle and high school students from across the country, who spoke of their awe at seeing the famous document.
Sumika Davidson, an eighth-grader from Deal Middle School in Washington who submitted a project on Bauhaus architecture, said, "Seeing the Declaration is very inspiring. My mother is Japanese and my father is American. Without it, I don't even think I would be here because the statement 'all men are created equal' was a large and historic step toward equality among humans."
Though this is not the first time that some form of the Declaration of Independence has been in Maryland, it was the first time that this specific copy, on loan from TV producer and philanthropist Norman Lear, has visited.
According to Ellene Riles, the historian who travels with the document, it is one of 200 printed copies that were sent out on July 4, 1776, to the colonies. The document predates the parchment and calligraphy version that is on display at the National Archives in Washington. That version was not signed until August 1776.
This is the only copy of the Declaration that travels for public view. The copy was discovered in the back of a painting bought at a flea market in 1989 and was put up for auction in 2000. Lear purchased it for $8 million to show to those who might not have the opportunity to see the document in the National Archives.
Cathy Gorn, executive director of National History Day, expressed her excitement at being able to host the document.
"It's wonderful to have the kids here every year, they are the true guests, but to have the Declaration here is an incredible honor," she said. "This is the primary document for the United States, and that just makes [history] come alive for these kids, and it allows them to have a profound moment."
Will Bury, a sixth-grader at Plum Point Middle School in Huntingtown, Calvert County, agreed.
"I think it's really great that we can have something that important here," he said.
He was scheduled to present a project on the environmental effects of the poultry industry in the Delmarva region during the history fair. It was his first time attending National History Day as well as his first time participating in a history fair.
"I'm really excited and amazed that I got this far on my first try," Will said.
Dennis Jutras, a history teacher at Polytechnic Institute in Baltimore who has coached students entering the history fair for the past six years, said he wants to see more historical exhibits and documents at the event.
"I love primary source documents. Maybe we can get the Constitution here. … The Constitution would be a wonderful document to see as well," he said.
That hope isn't too far-fetched.
"Maybe we'll go after the Constitution next time," Gorn said.