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Waiting All Night for a Look at History

The line to see the Emancipation Proclamation could mean a wait of six hours. Photo by Bob Brodbeck.

Americans are used to waiting in line for things they really want: tickets to a rock concert, a World Series game or a controversial new movie, for example.

At the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, this week some people  waited all night for a brief look at one of the nation’s most historic documents — the Emancipation Proclamation. 

The Proclamation was on display for 36 hours in conjunction with the showing at the museum of NARA’s “Discovering the Civil War” exhibit, which is on display there through September 5, before moving on to Houston and Nashville.

The Emancipation Proclamation, part of the National Archives’ holdings,  is displayed very infrequently and for short periods because of its fragile condition, which exposure to light can worsen, and the need to preserve the document for future generations.  On display in Dearborn were only two of the five pages and a replica of the front page; the document is double-sided.

Visitors had only a 36-hour window for a chance to see the document. Photo by Bob Brodbeck.

With this historic document on display, the Henry Ford Museum got one of the biggest turnouts ever.  The 36 hours began at 7 p.m. Monday, June 20, and ended at 7 a.m. Wednesday, June 22.

Press accounts reported that there were waits of up to six to eight hours, some of it in the rain. 

The line was so long, according to Kate Storey, a museum spokesman, that it had to be cut off at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, a full eight-and-a-half hours before the exhibit closed.

In all, Storey said, 21,015 individuals viewed the Proclamation. The museum itself remained fully open during the 36 hours and many visitors took in the Civil War exhibit and other features there.

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, freed “all persons held as slaves” in the rebel states of the Confederacy.  Slavery was ended in all states by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865.

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Comments

Comment from Nora Hockenberry
Time June 24, 2011 at 2:00 pm

I stood in that line with my son from 8:30pm until 2:30am, June 21, 2011 to see the document. It was quite an experience as everyone was friendly, explaining why they thought being there was important to them, and holding my place in line so I could sit down and rest or get something to drink. I was impressed. Many races were in that line at The Henry Ford but everyone was patient and helpful. This is what Abraham Lincoln was fighting for and it was evident to me that we may have achieved something great…