Yesterday was an interesting day for historic preservation.
From a podium in the Emancipation Room at President Lincoln's Cottage, it was announced that 60 organizations from across the country would receive over $14 million in grant funding from Save America's Treasures -- a federal program that has saved places and artifacts as integral to the American story as the Star-Spangled Banner, yet which faces a future that can only be described as uncertain.
As you know, Save America's Treasures was pummeled in last year's budget proposal. And by pummeled, I mean slated for outright eliminated. While money was eventually found to fund the program through March of this year, the drafts of the FY 2012 budget that are now back-and-forthing their way through Washington show rather ominously that the fight to save our funding isn't over.
Now, I attended yesterday's announcement as the eyes and ears of PreservationNation.org, which basically means I was saddled with approximately 75 pounds of computers, cameras, and cords, all with an end goal of shoehorning the event into cyberspace. And while I should have been 100% focused on furiously transcribing each and every sound bite, certain questions kept popping in and out of my mind: Will I be doing this next year? Will the program whose logo is emblazoned on the front of that podium even exist? If not, will we be able to estimate what our country has lost in terms of understanding and appreciating its past?
Pretty deep for an event that kicked off with cookies and cider.
Regardless, I invite you all to experience the afternoon as seen (and heard) through my lens. And more importantly, I urge everyone to spend some time with the full list of Save America's Treasures newest grantees.
I guarantee you: If you're not already a believer, you will be.
(Note: This was originally planned as a live blog -- as in happening at the same time of the event. However, President Lincoln's Cottage's wireless connection simply wasn't feeling it. So, in an effort to recreate the experience, behold my time-marked summary.)
[ 1:15 p.m. ] I've arrived on the grounds of President Lincoln's Cottage, which unlike most of the meticulously shoveled and/or salted areas of Washington, remains beautifully blanketed in white. It was the doggiest of summer's dog days the last time I was here. I have to say that the mere sight of the fluffy stuff gives me a whole new perspective on this amazing site, which by the way was one of Save America's Treasure first success stories. Though Honest Abe primary used the cottage for stay-cationing purposes, here's what he would have seen had he made the journey from the White House in the dead of winter.
[ 1:36 p.m. ] Note: While stunning, the snow is in fact cold. I'm inside now with two people who know Save America's Treasures and its 1,100+ success stories backwards and forwards -- Bobbie Greene and Fiona Lawless of Save America's Treasures at the National Trust. We've got a few minutes before the event starts, so we've powered up the flip cam for a (semi) live shot. Give us a listen as Bobbie walks through the significance of hosting today's event at President Lincoln's Cottage, and Fiona recalls just a few of the projects through which Save America's Treasures has helped preserve places important to the African American experience (happy first day of Black History Month, by the way).
[ 1:55 p.m. ] An exclusive tour of the cottage with today's speakers just entered the Emancipation Room, where I am rather ungracefully crawling around on the floor trying to get everything plugged in and turned one. Classic! Anyway, the guide is giving the backstory to National Trust President Stephanie Meeks, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, and Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. She ends by directing everyone's eyes to the pièce de résistance -- a replica (the White House has the original) of the desk where President Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation.
[ 2:03 p.m. ] Tap, tap tap. Is this thing on?
[ 2:04 p.m. ] And we're off. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what live blogging looks like. Onward!
[ 2:15 p.m. ] The first name on the program is the National Trust's own Stephanie Meeks. After a warm welcome (this is a National Trust site, you know), Stephanie is walking us through a Save America's Treasures success story that is particularly gratifying as we kick off Black History Month -- the restoration of Greensboro, South Carolina's Woolworth's Lunch Counter. This is, of course, the location of the first sit-in where four brave African American students refused to be treated differently -- an event that took place 60 years ago today. And the milestones don't stop there; one year ago today, the International Civil Rights Museum -- with a shining-like-new Woolworth's Lunch Counter -- opened its doors after a Save America's Treasures granted jump started the project, eventually leveraging $23 million in funds from public and private partners. Ample applause ensues.
[ 2:21 p.m. ] Oh look at that: Stephanie's full remarks are already online. Hooray for the Interwebs!
[ 2:26 p.m. ] Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, is on deck now. She just shared an amazing quote that all of us should memorize immediately: "There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories." Way to say it, Ursula K. LeGuin.
[ 2:31 p.m. ] Rachel is now sharing with the audience (which is eating it up) some of her favorite projects selected to receive funding in this round of Save America's Treasures grants. One that rises to the top is the Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Collection, which will preserve what came of the iconic First Lady's preferred method of self-expression - scrap booking. Apparently, these pages contain Jackie's thoughts -- and even some doodles -- on important presidential events and her foreign travels. I don't know about you, but this alone puts the "treasures" in Save America's Treasures. Major history geek moment!
[ 2:33 p.m. ] History Geek Moment II: Rachel shares that another newly-funded project will restore Thomas Edison's second-ever voice recording, which is in such disrepair that nobody even knows what it says. Oh the anticipation!
[2:42 p.m. ] National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis takes the stage with a thought-provoking statement: By investing in our historic fabric, we bind our country together. Hear hear!
[ 2:45 p.m. ] Jonathan is now talking about the significance of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. To parphrase, we need to make the Civil War relevant to all Americas, even if they are new to this country. We all share the freedoms won from it -- freedoms that were articulated right here in this room in the Emancipation Proclamation. Hello, context.
[ 2:51 p.m. ] Another zinger before we go: President Obama recently challenged us in his State of the Union to win the future. To do that, we must learn from the past. Thank you, Mr. Jarvis.
[ 2:52 p .m. ] And that's a wrap. Everyone immediately rushes the stage. Luckily, I am equally agile. A parting shot.