The Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington, D.C. has recently taken to the road across the United States with a special rolling exhibit called “Gateway To Knowledge.” Via this exhibition, the LOC has been bringing facsimiles of many of its top treasures and information about the millions of resources in its unparalleled collections to the heartland of America. This exhibit travels inside a specially equipped 18-wheel truck as it visits small towns.
Founded in 1800, the LOC is the nation’s oldest cultural institution (yes, older than the Smithsonian). It houses rare books and maps, even rarer documents pertaining to American and world history, the earliest motion pictures, and priceless photographs.
The LOC also holds incredible items associated with Abraham Lincoln. It holds the original Bible used by Lincoln during his first inaugural on March 4, 1861 (and later used by President Obama). It also contains in its collection the contents of Lincoln’s pockets the night of his assassination on April 14, 1865. The hoods that the Lincoln conspirators wore while in prison and on trial are also in the LOC collection. Of course, the Library of Congress has been staging the truly magnificent “With Malice Toward None” Lincoln Bicentennial exhibition, currently entering its final week in Atlanta, Georgia.
The “Gateway to Knowledge” exhibit tells the story of the LOC and features high quality facsimile reproductions of some of its unique treasures. It relates how former president Thomas Jefferson “rescued” the Library when it was burned in the War of 1812 by the British, losing it’s valuable collection of books. Jefferson sold his own extensive collection to the LOC, thus permitting it to once more serve as a repository for information for everyone.
Visitors to this exhibit can see reproductions of a 1455 Gutenberg Bible; a 1507 map which is the first known to contain the word “America”; the rough draft of the Declaration Of Independence; videos of the earliest movies; and copies of the original artwork for the first Spider-Man comic book. The originals to these items are held by the LOC in its collection.
The exhibit pulled into Oberlin, Ohio a few weeks ago for a two day visit on the grounds of the liberal arts school Oberlin College. It was there where I went to see it for myself.
Here are some photos from my visit:
I wrote above that the “Gateway To Knowledge” exhibit travels on an 18-wheel truck. Once the truck is parked, the sides of the trailer expand to more than twice it’s original width, thus permitting a much larger space for the displays. Quite remarkable. Below is a photo which shows the trailer in its expanded state.
This LOC exhibit is driven around the country by two young docents who are quite knowledgeable about the Library and the exhibit. The husband and wife team of Josh and Abigail Van Gelder are on the road approximately 300 days annually as they tour our nation bringing special exhibits to the masses. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet them via blogging and am now honored to have them as my friends.
Abigail writes a guest blog for the Library as she and Josh travel through the heart of America. Here’s a link to her article about the visit to Oberlin, Ohio. She also blogs about their lives on the road on another blog which you can find here.
“Gateway To Knowledge” is currently in Iowa and will next head to Minnesota. The schedule is maintained on the LOC website. Over the next year, it will make approximately 60 stops in the mid-west and southern U.S.
It’s a fascinating exhibit. If it comes to a town near you, drop by for a visit. Admission is free. And if you do, please tell Abigail and Josh that I said hello!