Philadelphia is gearing up for next week’s arrival of the Democratic National Convention and museums across town have been highlighting their historical and political collections. We, of course, have our Freedom Train exhibition, looking at a project that both celebrated American history and raised questions (intentionally and unintentionally) about what freedom means. The Constitution Center has an exhibit focused on how candidates run for office while the Academy of Natural Sciences has a showcase of presidential hair. The Inquirer had a nice run down earlier this week of some of the many arts and culture activities associated with the convention.
All of this is nothing new. Back in the Rosenbach brothers’ time Philadelphia hosted the 1936 Democratic convention and the Free Library featured an exhibition of “Great Documents of the Democratic Presidents from the Collection of Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach.”
The exhibition included fifty-seven documents of presidents from Thomas Jefferson to Woodrow Wilson. They were not all from the presidents’ time in office; the section on Jefferson starts with a letter written when he was still a “gay, young law student, dancing and courting” in Williamsburg, Virginia., 37 years before he was elected president.
As you can see in these images of the first and last pages of the list, one of our copies of the exhibit catalog was annotated by Bill McCarthy, the first curator of the museum. His marks seem to indicate which of the items from the 1936 exhibit had come to the museum (“R”) and which had been sold by the Rosenbach Company in the interim. However, there are some puzzles, such as the fact that the first item in the exhibit, Thomas Jefferson’s letter from October 1763, does not have an “R” note, but it is definitely still here–in fact you can see and touch it for yourself on this Sunday’s Founding Fathers hands-on tour.I don’t know how many people, either local Philadelphians or out of town visitors, were able to stop by and see Dr. R’s documents in 1936, but for all of you in Philadelphia over the next week, it should be a great opportunity to get out, enjoy the city, and check out a wide variety of politically-inspired art and history events. We hope to see you here at the Rosenbach!