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Declaration of Independence makes an appearance

Copy of U.S.A.'s birth certificate displayed at Princess Cruises headquarters in Valencia

Posted: June 22, 2009 10:27 p.m.
Updated: June 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Diana Herrera, channel sales at Princess Cruises, takes a close look at a copy of the Declaration of Independence on Monday afternoon.

 
It was 1989. A bargain hunter at a Pennsylvania flea market paid $4 for a worn painting, buying it specifically for the frame.

Tucked between the canvas and the frame he found a folded piece of paper. It appeared to be a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

The man apparently hung the document on a wall in his home until a friend suggested he have a historian look at it.

That aged piece of cotton paper turned out to be one of 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence printed on July 5, 1776 and dispatched to the 13 colonies. It is one of only 25 known surviving copies.

The man would eventually sell the artifact for $1 million, and in 2000, veteran TV producer Norman Lear bought it for $8.14 million.

Today, in the hands of the nonprofit organization Declare Yourself, Lear's copy of the declaration is still fulfilling its original purpose - giving Americans a chance to see their nation's birth certificate up close.

Erika Johansson, program coordinator for Beverly Hills-based Declare Yourself, said she's on the road several times a month for touring exhibits of the document.

"We basically bring it anywhere anybody wants us," she said. "(Lear) believes that it's the peoples' document.

"It's really history in the flesh."

In connection with the July 4 holiday, Princess Cruises and Declare Yourself are sending the declaration north to Alaska.

From July 1 to 8, when each of Princess' eight Alaskan cruisers docks in Juneau, the document will be brought on board and displayed in the atrium.

"We're always on the lookout for amazing opportunities for our passengers," Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson said. "I don't think we've ever celebrated July 4 quite like this before."

On Monday, employees at the cruise company's Valencia headquarters had the chance to take a look at the declaration, with security guards standing by as the diverse crowd had their pictures taken next to the piece of history.

Printed on cotton paper - similar to U.S. currency - the declaration is sealed in a frame that protects it from ultraviolet light, and transported in a bulletproof suitcase, Johansson said.

Declare Yourself's copy is what's known as a "Dunlap Broadside," named for John Dunlap, the official printer for Congress when the colonies declared independence from Britain.

The 200 copies - each about the size of a folded daily newspaper - were sent to the colonies, with the intent that they be read aloud for people to hear.

"It's a rare opportunity to experience something like this," said Douglas Echaiz, who works in Princess' IT department. Originally from Chile, Echaiz said he has been a U.S. citizen for 25 years.

"It's really moving," he said about seeing the declaration.

That sentiment was echoed by quality assurance worker Kelly Smedley, who said: "It's moving because it's the foundation of what our country's morals are based on."

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