Utah state Capitol officials estimate that nearly 8,000 people journeyed to the newly restored building Friday to get a peek at a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence, currently on a national tour promoting voter registration.
The document, known as a Dunlap Broadside, is a printed version of the original handwritten statement. On stop No. 11 in a 15-state tour, this particular version is owned by television producer Norman Lear and was last in Salt Lake City as a part of the celebration of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
Warren Goodwin of West Jordan had a chance to see the treasured parchment on its first visit to Utah, but he returned Friday with his wife and two grandchildren to share the experience with them.
"We were excited to see it again and really wanted our grandkids to see it," Goodwin said. "We're pretty lucky it's here."
Goodwin and his family had been in line for about an hour and a half, and they still had 50 or 60 people in front of them. None, however, was the slightest bit dissuaded by the wait.
"We figured it was going to be busy," Cook said. "We're fine ... it's nice to see this good a turnout."
Christie Manning is the tour coordinator and a program manager for Declare Yourself, the nonprofit organization Lear founded in 2003 to promote voter registration. Manning confirmed Goodwin's impression of great attendance.
"This was the best turnout of the entire tour," Manning said. "We actually went an hour and a half over our scheduled end time to accommodate everyone who was here."
Manning said that people who see the document are often "overwhelmed with emotion," and that seemed apparent in the faces of visitors as they stepped up to the mahogany case in the center of the rotunda. Manning said combining exhibitions with voter-registration opportunities was an effective way to remind people of the power and importance of their individual vote.
"Seeing the document can be a very motivating experience," Manning said. "This effort, combined with our groundwork, which has included traveling with concert tours and online voter registration promotion, through sites like MySpace and Google ... have resulted in over 400,000 new, registered voters since last summer."
Lear, well-known for his hit '70s TV sitcoms that included "All In The Family," "Sanford and Son" and "The Jeffersons," purchased the copy of the Declaration, one of 25 known to exist, for $8.2 million in 2000, and it's discovery story reads like something out of a TV show.
Manning said that a "bargain-hunting couple" purchased a painting in 1989 at a Philadelphia flea market for $4. When they got the painting home, they peeled back the paper backing and found the document tucked inside, behind the painting. They sold it for about $1 million, and it changed hands once more before Lear purchased it at an auction.
The new owner, Manning said, has vowed to always keep it available "to the people."
Some of those people included the O'Dell family from Saratoga Springs, who made the trip Friday just to view the Declaration. Dad, Loran; Mom, Angie; and kids Christopher, Carter and Ashleigh were all beaming after their turn at the display. After the viewing, they got a family photograph in front of an oversize Declaration of Independence backdrop near the exhibit.
"It's so cool," Carter O'Dell said. "It's awesome how they found it."The exhibit continues today from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. More information on the exhibit, and other events hosted at the Capitol, can be found at www.utahstatecapitol.utah.gov.
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