The media got its first taste Thursday of the muskets and baby booties, the flagons and the plain porcelain bowls, the audacities and the complexities of the nation’s birth, when the Museum of the American Revolution held its inaugural all-day press preview.
The $120 million redbrick museum at Third and Chestnut Streets opens to the public Wednesday, and Thursday marked a rite of passage of sorts, the day when the museum opened its doors to broad perusal by reporters and producers.
About 125 showed up by midmorning, sitting down for the first showing of a 14-minute introductory film that asks the question asked in the museum’s galleries: How did a disparate and far-flung populace of farmers and shopkeepers become revolutionaries?
And how did women and enslaved Africans react to the turmoil around them? Not to mention the American Indians who were sucked into the conflict, mostly on the British side. The Oneida Nation, along with some from the Tuscarora Nation, were the only groups to break from the powerful Iroquois Confederacy and support the colonists.
Michael C. Quinn, president and chief executive, also played to his audience by noting “the importance of the press” to the nation’s founders.
“They understood that in bringing about the American Revolution, the role of the citizen was no longer merely being a loyal subject,” Quinn said prior to the showing of the introductory film. “The role of the citizen is that they are the source of authority. … They are the ultimate check on governmental power. How can a citizen perform those duties if they are not well-informed?”
Ed Rendell, former Pennsylvania governor and a longtime backer of the museum who sits on its board, said it took a long time to get to the point of holding a press preview. The museum was originally set to be built in Valley Forge National Historical Park, in concert with the National Park Service.
Years of bureaucratic jousting and fund-raising frustrations — one museum staffer referred to those years as "our Valley Forge" — led Rendell and then-chair of the museum H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, former owner of the Inquirer and Daily News, to turn their sights elsewhere in 2010, ultimately bringing the museum to the Philadelphia Historic District.
“This has been a 14-year endeavor,” Rendell said of his own involvement. “I am an optimist, and there were many times I didn’t think we could do it.”
“But we did,” he added. "It's an amazing story of how a ragtag group of farmers and shopkeepers defeated the greatest army in the world, and how did they do it? They did because they were fighting for ideas."