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Emancipation Proclamation takes a tour of New York state

Ellen Abbott

A document that changed history was displayed in Syracuse Thursday.  School children and history buffs lined up to look at the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, the order from President Abraham Lincoln that ultimately freed the slaves in the midst of the Civil War.Encased in a super-secure, climate-controlled case, the four pieces of paper are covered with Lincoln's handwriting, proclaiming that all persons held as slaves within rebellious states would be free.  The document is actually a draft of the proclamation signed on January 1, 1863, and the only surviving document of the Emancipation Proclamation in the president's hand.  The final draft was destroyed by a fire.

Onondaga Historical Association Director Gregg Tripoli, says the fact that it is in Lincoln's own handwriting "is enough to give you chills." Historically, one of the most interesting things about it, he says, is that it shows the edits made by Lincoln and his Secretary of State, William Seward.

"He literally pasted pieces of the Articles of War on the document, thereby making it a military order. But instead of taking the time to write out the Articles of War he literally pasted item onto the document.  So visually it's a very interesting document," said Tripoli.

A coronet band serenaded the visitors as they filed passed the document at the OnCenter in downtown Syracuse, and students like Ny-Jalah Rice,  and Josh Thomas, 11th graders from Central Tech High School documented the moment.

"I took pictures for my grandmother cause she's never seen it before," said Thomas

"I treasure this opportunity. It's so important, because there are so many people, especially my family, who would love to be able to see it something like this,  but they most likely won't. I was able to.  And I took pictures as well," said Rice.

Cheryl Wallace Vilardo, a teacher from Central Tech, says seeing the document helps students, as there is more emphasis in the curriculum now in studying primary historical documents.

"Having seen this, they'll be more invested in trying to understand the words, even though it may be difficult for students when they first read it," she said.

The document, which is part of the New York State Museum Collection, is on a tour of the state marking the 150th anniversary of the documents signing.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.