Heads up, Detroit. The Library of Congress is comin’ to town…in an 18-wheel truck.
The rolling exhibition, called the “Gateway of Knowledge” and featuring some of the Library’s best goodies, is making four stops in Michigan as it cruises through the Heartland. If you’re a history buff – or just obsessed with “National Treasure” like my son – this is one truck you don’t want to miss.
Here’s the skinny: A 53-foot custom trailer outfitted under the direction of the Library of Congress is touring America to show off its treasures and outrageous resources. The truck expands to 1,000 square feet of space, which will be packed with multimedia presentations (for those of you with short attention spans) Internet terminals hooked up to the Library’s Web site and these amazing facsimiles of our nation’s most prized possessions.
There will be the first map to ever use the word “America,” the 1455 Gutenberg Bible, the 1962 drawings for the comic book that introduced Spider-Man, Walt Whitman’s original of “Leaves of Grass” and much, much more. My favorite will be the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. It is written in Thomas Jefferson’s hand with edits by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. (See, even Jefferson had to deal with editors.)
And there is no map on back, so don’t try to steal it. But the repro does show the words that Jefferson changed, added, subtracted and included, explained Abigail van Gelder, one of the two docents on the truck. van Gelder explains how the Library’s Science Lab studied the paper and tracked what Jefferson wrote — and didn’t write.
“It’s very hands on,” van Gelder added. “We use graphic reproductions for that reason. You can get right up there and touch it.”
And in the case of Spider-Man, you can complain to your children how your comic books used to cost 10 cents. And how you had to walk uphill in the snow to school every day. But van Gelder notes how that comic really reflects popular culture, and it is part of a larger, comprehensive collection at the Library.
“It’s a piece than spans generations,” van Gelder said.
The exhibition will give a history of the Library, created in part by said Jefferson guy. He gave his personal book collection to re-establish the collection, which was destroyed in the burning of the U.S. Capitol in 1814. Jefferson organized his books under “Memory, Reason and Imagination,” so that too is how the exhibit is set up.
“You’ll learn all about our resources, our Web site and how much it has to offer our country,” said Donna Urschel, a public-affairs specialists for the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
Local community leaders are geeked beyond words. Grosse Pointe Historical Society Trustee Elizabeth Vogel put it best: “This is a dream come true. … The ‘Gateway to Knowledge’ tour is meaningful beyond our city limits, and we welcome residents of the state of Michigan, both near and far, to stop by.”
Grosse Pointe Farm’s stop also will have a massive 1942 World War II search light to lead the way; it will indeed be a beacon for this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.
Ultimately, “Gateway to Knowledge” is expected to visit up to 60 sites in states across the Midwest and South over the next year. Remember, two Library-trained docents (van Gelder and her husband) will be on board to teach you ingrates something about American history and share tales of their trip. So check it out. See you there!
Here is where the truck will stop:
Dec. 14-15: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at L’Anse Creuse Middle School North, 46201 Fairchild in Macomb.
Dec. 17-18: 4-9 p.m. Dec. 17 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Grosse Pointe Historical Society’s Provencal-Weir House, 376 Kercheval Avenue in Grosse Pointe Farms
Jan. 4-5: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Monroe County Community College, 1555 S. Raisinville Road in Monroe
Jan. 7-8: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Howell Carnegie District Library, 314 W. Grand River in Howell