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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: April 24, 2010
Byline: Stephan Salisbury

Panels for President's House memorial on display

Proposed exhibition panels for the President's House memorial have been placed on display for public comment at the Independence Visitor Center, Sixth and Market Streets.

The panels will be on view at the north end of the building, behind the cafe seating area, until May 3, according to Rosalyn McPherson, manager of the project on behalf of the city and Independence National Historical Park.

"This version is the latest version, and it has input from everybody," McPherson said Friday. "There's going to continue to be a lot of passionate debate and arguing over the historical facts. But we're still able to get our hands around it."

McPherson said she would schedule a public meeting before May 10 to discuss the plans.

The panels represent the historical content designed to tell the story of the house where George Washington and John Adams lived during their presidencies in the 1790s, and where Washington held at least nine African slaves.

Construction on the site, just north of the Liberty Bell Center, has been proceeding since fall. Work on the interpretive plan, however, has moved fitfully and slowly. Because of disagreements among members of the oversight committee monitoring the project, officials decided to postpone opening of the memorial from July Fourth to this autumn.

McPherson said that the project was on track and that she hoped the oversight committee would be able to approve a final interpretive plan at its meeting on May 10.

The proposed interpretive panels now on display, designed by the Kansas City, Mo., firm Eisterhold Associates Inc., represent a significant shift in presenting the story of the house and its occupants.

An earlier effort led by the New York-based American History Workshop was subjected to withering criticism by members of the committee. Some thought the workshop's presentation placed too much emphasis on well-known figures such as Washington, while others thought there was too much discussion of slavery and the slaves held by the nation's first president. Many from both camps felt the presentation lacked imagination.

The Eisterhold effort provides information on George and Martha Washington, the new political system growing up around them, and the economic system that had slavery and the slave trade coursing through virtually every major artery.

All nine of Washington's enslaved workers are identified in panel text.

Not on public view are the scripts for the video presentations that will form the dramatic heart of the memorial. McPherson said she hoped to have them available soon.

The proposed exhibit panels can be viewed on the Web site of the Independence Hall Association, an independent organization, at ushistory.org/presidentshouse/plans/eisterhold

 

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