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Tribute to a Grand Old Document : 200th Anniversary Celebration Planned for Constitution

September 13, 1987|ROBERT L. JACKSON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan and former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, chairman of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, will lead government officials and hundreds of thousands of Americans in Philadelphia Thursday in a festive commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the document.

The tribute in Philadelphia, site of the Constitutional Convention, is expected to be the highlight of a week of events planned in more than 1,800 communities around the country honoring the Constitution.

At the National Archives in Washington, where the charter is kept, an 87-hour vigil will begin today during which all four pages of the original document will be on display and available for public viewing. The document will be exhibited in a special shatter-resistant glass case installed for the occasion.

The rare day-and-night display has happened only once before--in 1976, for a 76-hour period to mark the nation's 200th anniversary.

Reagan, Burger and Vice President George Bush are scheduled to inaugurate the week of celebration in ceremonies on the steps of the Archives today. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, congressional leaders and military bands also will participate.

The Constitution's birthday party will include some unusual events. On Tuesday, ()the first of 200 U.S. Army runners will leave the Archives at 7:30 a.m. carrying a copy of the Constitution. Each will run a one-mile stretch before passing off the document to another runner until the Constitution reaches Fort Monroe, Va., a site chosen because it is 200 miles from Washington.

Making History

Wednesday, students and educators across the country will participate in the "Celebration of Citizenship," which is billed as the largest one-time national school program in history.

The hourlong, nationally televised program, which focuses on the rights and responsibilities under the Constitution and will be carried live on ABC-TV, will feature a ceremony (at 10 a.m. PDT) on the steps of the Capitol at which the President, Rehnquist, Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) will speak. Reagan will lead schoolchildren in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and Burger will read the preamble of the Constitution.

Each school in the nation has been sent a specially developed curriculum kit for the occasion, and 110,000 public and private schools are expected to participate.

In a more traditional vein, a naturalization ceremony for about 30 new U.S. citizens will be held at the Archives shortly after the 87-hour vigil ends there Thursday. Former Democratic Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas will speak.

The celebration in Philadelphia that day will begin with 35,000 marchers proceeding along a two-mile route from Independence Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The three-hour parade will include a re-enactment of the Grand Federal Procession two centuries ago that celebrated the signing of the document. Descendants of the original 39 signers of the Constitution will march in the procession.

'Parade of States'

The event will feature a 40-foot float resembling a parchment scroll and a "parade of the states," with each represented by a small float displaying its flag, seal and motto. Costumed town-criers, Colonial militia and pony-express riders will be stationed along the route.

The parade will pause when Reagan delivers a nationally televised address from Independence Hall. Later, Burger will preside at ceremonies in the bell tower of the hall, ringing the Centennial Bell to lead the nation in a synchronized tribute called "Bells Across America."

That city's events will be capped by a black-tie gala in the Philadelphia Civic Center for 7,000 guests and a fireworks display at Penn's Landing on the Delaware River.

While Philadelphia honors its role in the Constitution's creation, other ceremonies, large and small, will be held across the nation. There will be hundreds of reenactments of the signing of the document as well as public readings of the preamble.

Oyster Festival

Norwalk, Conn., is planning to combine a constitutional celebration with its annual oyster festival on the waterfront this weekend. The chief attraction will be a parade of tall ships.

In Warsaw, N.Y., and Helena, Mont., residents will gather to sign replicas of the Constitution.

Southampton, N.Y., will display a large, 19th-Century American flag and Skowhegan, Me., will hold a candlelight parade.

Boston will be the site Thursday of a naturalization service for 100 new citizens, held aboard the U.S.S. Constitution. The 190-year-old warship nicknamed "Old Ironsides" saw duty in the War of 1812 and is the oldest commissioned vessel in the U.S. Navy.

New Orleans is planning a day of activities next Sunday, starting with a commemorative Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in use in the nation.

In Chicago, a bicentennial ceremony will be held at Comiskey Park just before a White Sox baseball game on Thursday. The tribute will include a dramatic reading of the preamble, a 21-gun salute and the release of 200 white doves.

In Madison, Minn., city fathers believe the celebration need not be strictly serious. Residents are planning a fair today at which the town's unusual "mascot," a 24-foot-long fiberglass codfish named "Lou T. Fisk," will be given a grand send-off for a journey to Philadelphia. City Administrator Stephen Townley said the giant fish replica was named for "lutefisk," a codfish dish eaten by early Scandinavian immigrants in the area.

After its four-day trip, Lou T. Fisk will be on display at Penn's Landing on the Delaware River.

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