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Early Declaration of Independence document winds up its 50-state tour in Bangor

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
"It would take forever to read it." said 84 year-old Basil Thompson (center) of Orono as he leaned over the ropes on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at the Bangor Public Libarary to get a closer view of a copy of the Declaration of Independance at the Bangor Public Library. On hand to protect the document were plain clothed security guards and dressed in period costume was Donald Brown of Hampden (right) and Paul Smith of Old Town (left). The woman is unidentified.
By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — A precious piece of America’s history — an original Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence printed on July 4, 1776 — has visited each of the 50 states and on Saturday made Maine its last stop on its decade-long tour.

Only 26 copies of the original broadsides, printed by John Dunlap of Philadelphia nearly 235 years ago, are known to exist. The one that visited the Bangor Public Library on Saturday was found folded inside a painting purchased in 1989 for $4 at a flea market, said Brent Miller, director of special events at the Lear Family Foundation.

The first thing people notice about the more than 2-centuries-old cotton paper document is that it has no signatures, security guard Cino Picillo said while watching people look into the glass case holding the Declaration.

“The one pictured in your mind was done after this was printed,” he said, referring to the calligraphy document signed by John Hancock and 55 other members of the Continental Congress.

The year after the Dunlap broadside was discovered hidden in the painting, Norman and Lyn Lear and friend David Hayden purchase it at an auction for $8.14 million. Norman Lear is credited with creating Archie Bunker and producing “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford & Son,” as well as the films “Stand by Me,” “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “The Princess Bride.”

Lear bought the historic broadside because he considers it “America’s document,” and through his project, the Declaration of Independence Road Trip, he has provided residents from all over the county an opportunity to see and read its moving and powerful words, Miller said.

“Millions have viewed it,” he said. “Teachers, new citizens. I’ve seen vets walk up and just salute it.”

Young and old took the opportunity to see history on Saturday in Bangor.

“I have seen the original … it’s really well-written,” Dr. Cliff Singer of Orono, who described himself as a map and history buff, said just after he read the document and took its picture.

The original Declaration is on exhibit at the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in Washington, D.C. John Hancock and Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress, signed it on July 4, 1776, and the rest of the delegates signed it on or before Aug. 2, 1776.

“We’re lucky a group brought that printing to Bangor,” said Singer, who was accompanied by Melora Gregory of Portland. “It’s incredible.”

Anita Crane of Bangor, accompanied by her 10-year-old daughter, Ashley, and her friends Margarette and Reni, also stopped by the library to see the Declaration.

“I thought it was really cool,” Margarette said, “and long.”

Crane could be heard telling the girls that history is very important. She added later that she learned a thing or two about the country’s founding documents from visiting the exhibit.

Bangor City Councilor Gerry Palmer, carrying his infant granddaugther Brenna Small-Clark, added that “this is way great for Bangor.”

He also suggested that residents check out the city’s charter, which hangs in the City Council chambers, because “it was signed by Gov. John Hancock” on Feb. 25, 1791, when he was governor of Massachusetts.

The last seven state visits in the 50-state tour have been squeezed into the last three weeks because the historic document has been sold, said Miller, who has been its tour guide for the last four years.

“It’s been a privilege,” he said. “It definitely has got some miles behind it.”

In addition to visiting each state, the Declaration copy has made appearances at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, at Super Bowls, at more than 50 universities and other schools, and was on display at the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.

The Declaration of Independence Road Trip not only brought history to the people, it also was designed to inspire youth “to see citizenship as an opportunity; to participate in civic life; to exercise their rights; and above all, to vote,” the group’s website states.

Since the decade-long tour is now complete, Lear’s goal has been accomplished, Miller said.

“He didn’t think people should have to travel to see it,” he said. “He thought it should travel to see them.”

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