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American Revolution Museum winning battle for tourists

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By KRISTEN DE GROOT, AP
PHILADELPHIA

The Museum of the American Revolution is a year old this month and officials say it has landed a decisive victory in capturing tourists’ attention in a city with lots of revolutionary competition.

In honor of its first birthday on April 19, also the anniversary of the shots fired at the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775 that ignited the war, the museum is making some additions while holding the line on the its most popular exhibits.

“The American Revolution has always been on the razor’s edge of the culture wars. We had no idea how people were going to receive this story of the revolution as we have written it,” said Scott Stephenson, the museum’s vice president of collections, exhibitions and programming. “But the public response has been tremendous, across the political spectrum.”

The campaign to build and open the museum closed at $173 million, when the goal was $150 million. They opened with no construction debt and have a hearty endowment in place, he said.

It’s been an extraordinary year to open a museum about the American Revolution, Stephenson said, with everything from the uproar over the removal of Confederate statues to the Second Amendment debates in the wake of school shootings.

The museum’s exhibit starts with the moment in New York City where citizens pulled down the statue of King George III after hearing the Declaration of Independence read aloud. Stephenson said he’s overheard a number of debates from visitors about the toppling of statues around the country.

“Most people would agree, regardless of their political affiliation, that this is one of those moments of deep reflection of who we are as a people,” he said. “The American Revolution has incredible relevance.”

Upcoming new additions include a trip through Alexander Hamilton’s Philadelphia and the opening of the “Revolution Place Discovery Center” featuring recreated historical environments to immerse families.

On a recent morning, the museum was jam-packed with school groups, senior citizen bus tours and visitors from all over.

Bill and Amanda Hrehowsik were visiting the museum from Middletown, New Jersey, with their two sons. They were in Philadelphia for the kids’ spring break and had already visited the Franklin Institute, gone to a Flyers hockey game and seen the Liberty Bell.

The short films and Washington’s tent were their favorites.

“I like that it has a modern twist with all the interactive exhibits, so the kids are engaged,” said Amanda Hrehowsik.

The museum was on the list of must-sees because it was new, and because 10-year-old Matthew was studying the Revolution in class.

“It’s really interesting, because there was some stuff I learned here that I didn’t learn in school,” he said.

Maud Lyon, president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, said it’s a challenge for all Philadelphia museums to get tourists to move “beyond the bell” — meaning the Liberty Bell.

“This is a major anchor that was much needed in Philly to tell the historic story we are known for,” she said of the museum.

From her perspective, the American Revolution museum has done all the right things. Their inclusion of the previously untold roles played by Native Americans, African-Americans and women, and their interactive displays really create modern feel.

“These days, it’s not easy to tell history. We have very diverse perspectives,” she said.

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