Postscripts To History

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The Chicago Historical Society will inaugurate its new American History Wing with an exhibit called “We the People,” opening on September 12. The show will include pamphlets, maps, engravings, costumes, and artifacts, as well as the first newspaper printing of the Constitution, in the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser, September 19,1787.

Kentucky

Because it did not become a state until five years after the delegates met in Philadelphia, Kentucky’s celebrations will center on its own early history. Three prairie schooners will tour the state throughout 1987, stopping at county fairs, schools, and shopping malls to teach about early Kentucky farm life. The town of Madisonville will devote nine days, June 19–27, to a festival celebrating its namesake, James Madison.

Massachusetts

At the Museum of Our National Heritage, in Lexington, an exhibition of Constitution-related documents will be on view from April 19,1987, through March 15, 1988. Of particular note are the letters from the Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry explaining why he opposed the Constitution.

On Saturdays from April through October, Old Sturbridge Village will dramatize constitutional issues in the form of encounters that might have taken place in a nineteenth-century New England town, like monthly meetings of the local debating and antislavery societies.

New York

From April 18 through September 19, the New York Public Library presents “Are We to Be a Nation?,” covering the period between the Albany Plan (1754) and the Bill of Rights (1791). Alexander Hamilton’s manuscript “Plan of a Constitution for America” and Charles Willson Peale’s portraits of Hamilton, Washington, and Jay will be on view.

Virginia

On Fridays and Saturdays from March 13 through October 31, and on November 26, 27, and 28, Colonial Williamsburg will sponsor a two-hour walking tour exploring the links between eighteenth-century Williamsburg, Virginia’s colonial capital, and the Constitution, highlighting the contributions Virginians made to the document.

Ohio

Perhaps the most overlooked anniversary of 1987 will be the bicentennial of the Northwest Ordinance, which established federal authority in the Midwest. The Ohio Historical Society will try to rectify this oversight with an exhibit that celebrates documents of regional importance as well as the Constitution. In addition to the Northwest Ordinance, the Treaty of Greenville (1795) will be on view; it was not until this treaty formalized the defeat of the Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers that most of Ohio and southeastern Indiana became safe for settlement. The section of the exhibit devoted to the Constitution will include a letter from George Washington discussing States’ Rights and Jefferson’s copy of The Federalist Papers. The exhibition will be at the Ohio Historical Society from July 13 through September 17, after which it will travel to the Lilly Library, Bloomington, Indiana; the Clements Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan; the Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois; the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, in Madison; and the Minnesota Historical Society, in St. Paul, staying at each institution for about two months.

—James Long

The First Wave

This June 6 many ceremonies will mark the anniversary of the most massive amphibious invasion in history. One of them will be held at the U.S. military cemetery just east of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, a small French village on the Normandy coast. At the cemetery are buried 9,386 American soldiers. But there are other GIs who died that day who do not rest at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. Assigned to lead the very first wave, the men who lost their lives in the forefront of the D-day invasion not only have been denied a decent burial but they have been denied their rightful place in history.

They were killed not by German gunfire but by their own weapon, an ultrasecret device that had been approved by the highest-ranking Allied generals. It was a weapon so exciting that the British general Frederick Morgan, who prepared the preliminary invasion plans, said, “At last was found that for which every army in the world had been searching for years....” Nicholas Straussler, a mechanical wizard from Hungary who had become a British citizen, had found a way to float the thirty-two-ton Sherman tank. A seven-foot-high “bloomer”—a canvas collar attached all around the sides of the tank—raised the turret above the waterline. The rest of the tank remained submerged; periscopes and tiller were added, and two propellers in the rear pushed it through the water. These twin screws also served as inspiration for the new miracle weapon’s name: Duplex Drive Tank, better known as the DD Tank. The name was meant to fool the Germans; no one was allowed to refer to it as a floating tank.

To this day nobody will take responsibility for the orphan dead of the 741st Tank Battalion.

From shore the DD Tank looked like a small canvas boat and was unlikely to draw enemy fire. But once it hit the beach, it would lower its collar and burst out of the water already firing.