DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, July 4, 2014

DC Stages a Birthday Party for America

Welcome to this week's Friday Flashback. Each Friday in the Flashback we will offer a post about some part of the past and its relationship to DC. Sometimes, we will write a new entry. Others times, we will showcase articles that previously appeared in The Prices Do DC or some other online publications. But no matter who does the writing, you can trust that you will learn something important from the Flashback

It was a startling series of sounds, contemporary sounds that shattered the carefully established 1776 vibe. First came the screeching of police sirens, followed by a line of uniformed DC policemen on motorcycles rapidly turning the corner at Constitution Avenue and 7th Street. In these cautionary 21st Century times of terror, many in the huge crowd outside the National Archives on this July 4th morning turned nervously toward the noise. "Get to the right, get to the right," one of the officers shouted.

The din silenced the colonial Abigail Adams reenactor who had been sharing a dramatic reading of The Declaration of Independence with a Revolutionary clad George Washington. But in a matter of seconds, the wariness turned to cheers as the crowd discovered the reason for the interruption. The officers were escorting 4 large red-and-white Budweiser Clydesdale trucks which had transported the famous horses to DC to participate in a parade that was to follow the annual Declaration of Independence Reading Ceremony. "Yeah, America; Yeah Bud," the American-flag shirted man next to me hollered, getting part of the crowd to join him in the cheer.

The crowd responds
An unperturbed Adams resumed her reading with Washington. When it came to the part where the revolutionary writers listed their specific grievances against King George and his British government, they were joined by reenactors portraying main document writer Thomas Jefferson, wise septuagenarian Ben Franklin, and firebrand John Adams. As the trio read out specific charges, the crowd, now well into the moment, replied with echoing boos and calls of "Here, here" and "Independence." At the conclusion of the reading, a reenactor portraying free Black and Revolutionary War private Ned Hector read a list of the 56 signers of the Declaration. The state-by-state lists were followed by shouts of "Huzzah" from the crowd, and in the case of South Carolina, one call of "Gamecocks."

Prior to the reading, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero explained the history of one of America's most historic documents. The original copy of the Declaration, written on parchment, was saved by the quick action of a civil servant when the British burned Washington in 1812. It remained in Washington until the start of World War II, when it was placed in the vaults at Fort Knox for extra protection. After the war, it was housed at the Library of Congress until it was brought to the Archives in 1952, where it has remained on public view ever since.

The Revolutionary colors
"Of course, there was that time in 2004 when Nicholas Cage stole it," Ferriero said, prompting laughter from the crowd with his reference to the popular movie National Treasure.  "But he returned it." However, the movie prompted the current most asked question at the Archives - can we see the map on the back?" Ferriero said that the map only existed in the minds of the movie makers. "I can assure you the only words on the back are 'original declaration 4 July, 1776,'" he said.

The ceremony began with a presentation of the colors and a powerful acapella rendition of "The National Anthem" by the United Air Force Band singers. There was also a performance of colonial period music by the 3rd U.S. Infantry "The Old Guard" Fife and Drum Corps which concluded with an updated version of "Yankee Doodle."

Everybody Loves a Red-White-and-Blue Parade

Patriotism and picture taking were the order of the day
Lady Liberty gets ready to ride through the streets of Washington
Nothing says Happy Birthday America like the DC Rollergirls
This Eagle of Freedom is ready to soar
Here  are the Clydesdales whose transport  trucks caused all that initial confusion
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. We should all return periodically to reread (or, in some cases, read for the 1st time) these and all words from the document which created the country we now have today. Click here to do just that.

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