SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A historical treasure currently residing in South Bend will soon be packed up and travel across the country, retracing some of the steps it took during its glory days nearly 200 years ago.
This week the Studebaker National Museum will loan its prized Lafayette carriage to the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown in Virginia, which will display it until it is returned to South Bend in December.
The carriage, purchased in 1887 by Clement Studebaker, was built for Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette and used on the French general’s grand tour of the United States in 1824.
“The Lafayette carriage will be the centerpiece of (the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown’s) first temporary exhibition, which will be about American Revolution veterans,” said Aaron Warkentin, curator of Studebaker National Museum.
The exhibition will focus on veterans and their contributions to the new nation following the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, the final battle of which was fought at Yorktown.
Kate Gruber, curator of the American Revolution Museum, said the museum wants to show that Yorktown is not just an ending, but also a beginning.
“There’s a lot of unknown stories that we like to tell, that we’re going to tell with this exhibit,” she said. “With Marquis, we’re really focusing on the celebrity, the almost cult status that surrounds him. And the carriage is such a beautiful way to do that. It is such an incredible testament to the celebrity that he experienced in the new United States since he came back for his farewell tour in 1824 and 1825.”
According to Gruber, when Lafayette arrived in New York in 1824, a crowd that was 65 percent of the city’s population greeted him. By comparison, the Beatles were welcomed by half a percentage of the population in 1964.
“He is really just one of the first national celebrities, or international celebrities, that Americans adopted in our collective consciousness and culture, too,” Gruber said.
Along with the carriage, the exhibit will display related artifacts, including some of the cultural material created at the time of Lafayette’s visit, such as a welcoming banner from his cross-country tour.
On Wednesday, conservator Brian Howard will host a presentation at Studebaker National Museum as he builds a special transportation crate and explains the process of preserving this piece of American history. He will also discuss the methods and techniques used to preserve the carriage, which is the museum’s oldest artifact.
The 1:30 p.m. presentation will be open to the public. It will be free for members and $2 for nonmembers of the museum.
Howard performed the most recent restoration of the carriage, which has been an integral part of the Studebaker collection since its beginning.
The enclosed crate is specifically designed to safely carry and secure the 193-year-old carriage
“It’s not like we are going to roll it on a flatbed and drive it out there,” Warkentin said. “It will actually be secured inside this box. Then the box will actually go in a closed trailer itself.”
This is the first time the museum has loaned out the carriage, but it had been loaned out through the early 20th century as part of the private Studebaker family collection.
The Studebaker Museum took extreme precaution in evaluating the condition of the carriage and the plausibility of safe transportation before agreeing to send it to Yorktown.
“Marking the 100th anniversary of Lafayette’s visit of America, many communities wanted to borrow the carriage, and even then Studebaker Corp. was saying, ‘Thank you very much,but we’re actually pretty freaked out about loaning this thing out and actually tying it up to horses and having it be pulled around,'” Warkentin said.
Warkentin and the Studebaker team ultimately decided the conditions were good and that such a showcase of the Lafayette carriage would be worth it.
“It was actually sent to Jamestown-Yorktown to a special exhibition about 100 years ago,” Warkentin said. “So it’s actually already been down there once.”
Source: South Bend Tribune, http://bit.ly/2qwrD6F
Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the South Bend Tribune.