Let it be known – The United States Library of Congress Exhibit is in town, and it is a must-see for the whole family. 

The traveling mega-display, termed Gateway to Knowledge, rolled into Athens on Thursday afternoon, and officially kicked off with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m., Friday. 

Following an inspiring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner performed by the TVCC Choir, County Judge Richard Sanders made some opening remarks to get the event started off right. 

“This is a unique opportunity for our county and city to have the Library of Congress visiting our community.  We are honored to have this exhibit here in Athens,” Sanders said.

The exhibit, which is operated by MRA Experimental Tours and Equipment, is contained within an expandable, over-the-road 18-wheeler.  The event is sponsored by the Henderson County Library, and has been made possible by a grant from the Rappaport Foundation, of Waco.

“This exhibit is going around the U.S at no cost to the public. It’s been completely taken care of by the Rappaport’s,” Sanders added.

In it’s entirety, the exhibit plans to make 60 stops across the U.S.  Athens is the 37th stop on the national list, and one of seven stops in Texas.

Athens was fortunate enough to be one of the chosen sites for the exhibit due to the efforts of U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, and the local officials from his office. 

Phillip Smith, with  Hensarling’s office, was part of the ribbon cutting, and expressed his pleasure at the event.

“It’s really a wonderful opportunity for Henderson County and East Texas to see our national treasures.  The goal of this exhibit is to bring these treasures to rural areas of our country,” Smith said.

The hands-on operators of the event are Josh and Abigail Van Gelder.  The husband-and-wife team handle all aspects of operating the exhibit, including setting up and breaking down, and serving as tour guides for visitors.  They even drive the 18-wheeler.

“We are the road crew” Josh said.

Abigail added that, “This exhibit was made possible by Emily and Abby Rappaport. Our mission is to bring the Library of Congress to smaller communities.  When the Rappaport’s were presented with the opportunity to present this exhibit using a truck like this, they jumped at the opportunity.”

Van Gelder also encouraged visitors to make it a family event.

“We want to encourage families to experience this exhibit together.  There is really something here that all generations can connect with.”

The Library of Congress was originally part of the capitol in Washington, D.C. During the war of 1812, the library was burned by the British.

Thomas Jefferson, upon his retirement, offered to sell his personal library to the U.S. government to help reestablish the Library of Congress. 

In 1815, amid great controversy, the Congress agreed, and paid Jefferson $29,950 for his collection of nearly 6,500 books.  Jefferson’s collection provided the foundation for the Library of Congress as we know it today.

TVCC student Victoria Cervantes said the exhibit was, “very informative,” and encouraged other students and members of the community to attend.

Visitors can expect to learn about a variety of national treasures, including the original Jefferson Library, the Gutenberg Bible, the drafting of our Declaration of Independence and the Waldseemuller Map of 1507, just to name a few.

If you’d like more information about the Gateway to Knowledge Exhibit, visit the Library of Congress website at www.loc.gov/gateway/

The exhibit will be in Athens, Feb. 25 and 26, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is located at the Henderson County Judicial Complex annex.


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