Sailing to Museum Confusion
Question: Why are we sailing to Museum Confusion?
Answer: Because two new museums have the same name.
This week the Museum of the American Revolution announced Opening Day as next April 19. According to a news release:
“On that day in 1775, a shot rang out across the North Bridge in Concord, Mass., igniting the Revolutionary War and changing the course of history. Located in Philadelphia, the museum will bring to life the dramatic story of our nation’s founding.”
Meanwhile, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is on pace for opening fully “by late 2016,” which is vague but still ahead of Philadelphia. The big features at Yorktown are a re-created Continental Army encampment and a Revolution-era farm. The museum has already been showing a new introductory film, which is excellent. It covers the entire Revolution, yet oddly omits the Battle of the Capes that set up the Siege at Yorktown. I like to tell my guests who go sailing that had the French not prevailed at the Capes, we might all be speaking with British accents today.
According to the website, Yorktown promises “expansive permanent exhibition galleries.” But there’s still no word on what’s newly acquired or loaned. Invariably critics will compare the collection to Philadelphia’s. Still, the Yorktown museum should crack the Trip Advisor list of Top 10 Things to Do In Williamsburg.
Philadelphia boasts an “expansive collection of Revolutionary-era weapons, personal items, documents, and works of art.” The news release gushes: “Visitors will experience the remarkable story of the American Revolution from its origins to ultimate victory and its continuing relevance. From General Washington’s Headquarters Tent to a soldier’s wooden canteen branded with UStates, the collection reflects the multiplicity of men and women whose struggle and sacrifice contributed to the founding of our nation.”
“The incredible story of the American Revolution will be explored through immersive galleries, dynamic theaters, and re-created environments to bring to life the events, people, and ideals of our nation’s founding. Immersive experiences include a full-scale replica of Boston’s Liberty Tree, the Battlefield Theater where visitors will experience the sensation of facing a British assault, and a re-creation of Independence Hall when it was reduced to a prison for American soldiers.”
Tens of Millions Funding
Yorktown’s new museum sits in front of the old one. From a sailboat in the York River, it looks like Robert E. Lee’s home at Arlington, now America’s principal national cemetery. The museum cost was announced years ago at $47 million, a princely sum totally underwritten by state taxpayers. Phil Emerson, longtime director of the Yorktown-Jamestown Foundation, has done yeoman work lobbying the General Assembly. Many of the seats on his board are held by legislators, who clearly like the wining and dining they endure. The state underwriting has evidently precluded a big capital campaign, or else I’ve missed any major gifts that were announced.
By contrast, Philadelphia is churning a $150 million campaign for a museum that is much larger than Yorktown’s. The opening day announcement included word of a $10 million challenge grant from the board chairman, Gerry Lenfest. He made a $40 million matching gift early on that has been fully matched. So far, Philadelphia has raised $130 million “from supporters across every state in the nation.”
Lenfest is quoted, “The story of our nation’s founding and its enduring legacy must be understood, and there is no better place to experience that story than historic Philadelphia.”
Well, there is still Yorktown, where the Revolution effectively ended. I end my narrative on the boat by showing a large copy of the famous Trumbull painting “The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Oct. 19th, 1781.” The original is one of only eight paintings in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington.
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