- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Matthew Scheuermann, 9, shyly confesses that he doesn't truly understand what this whole convention thing is all about.
But he knew enough to explain that he was having a good time with his family yesterday as the Chester County, Pa., residents joined thousands of conventioneers visiting an enormous interactive exhibit called PoliticalFest.
"It's a history lesson," said Matthew, standing beside a lifesize replica of Air Force One, a popular photo spot and one of many unusual sights set up inside the Philadelphia Convention Center downtown.
"I'm just glad it's not school," said the boy, happy to be on a weekday outing.
With the 2000 Republican National Convention now in high gear, and the stream of endless parties continuing, many Republican delegates and their families are using their down time during the day to take in the lively exhibit that illustrate history, government and the road to the presidency.
Sponsored by the Philadelphia 2000 Host Committee at a cost of close to $3 million, PoliticalFest was developed as a way to showcase the city's civic pride. Dubbed the "world's fair of politics," by organizers, it is a first of its kind event, said executive producer Carol Fitzgerald, who has been working on the project for about a year.
"We've had an astounding response," said Miss Fitzgerald, who has watched attendance pick up steadily since the event opened last Thursday. "To see people come in and their eyes filled with wonder and excitement and to watch them go through … is so special."
Collectors of political memorabilia, artists, seamstresses and others have generously donated their wares and time to the exhibit, which features an array of rare artifacts as well as the latest technological advances.
The exhibit, she said, offers something for all ages.
Children can visit with a robot, climb on the C-SPAN bus or step behind the camera and deliver the news at the "Be an Anchor for a Day," display. They can also plop down and take a gander at one of the 1,000 books housed in the Laura Bush Reading Room.
Adults can view one of the 27 original copies of the Declaration of Independence, and see a 1986 prototype of former President Ronald Reagan's limousine details of price, engine and horsepower all classified, and Secret Service not included. They can also get a look at the shield flag that flew above first President George Washington when he was sworn into office on April 30, 1789.
Popular among movie buffs is a replica of the Oval Office used in the movies "Dave" and "Contact" and donated by Universal Studios. Art enthusiasts lingered upon the 41 presidential portraits painted by Glenside, Pa., artist Chas Fagan.
For Elaine Deeney of Springfield, Pa., a display of replica inaugural gowns from 38 first ladies, was a PoliticalFest high point. Her favorite? An empire-waist, short-sleeved ivory-lace number worn by first lady Florence Harding.
"The styles really aren't all that different, but the detail is impressive," she said of the ball gowns, sewn by Philadelphia seamstress Dina Artz and last displayed publicly during the 1976 Bicentennial.
With a banjo and saxophone band playing patriotic tunes on a stage in the back of the exhibit hall, Marian Peck worked her way through a collection of Liberty Bells, designed especially for PoliticalFest to represent each state's unique features.
"That really is different," said the Broomall, Pa. resident, pointing at the Michigan bell crafted completely out of used auto parts.
From New York came a bell, which appropriately chimed the show tune "Give My Regards to Broadway." Most creative was the bell from vice presidential nominee Richard B. Cheney's home state, Wyoming, which was crafted out of lariat rope, "the tool that tamed the west."
"It seems so welcoming with lots of interesting things our kids can do," mother Karen Scheuermann observed. Added her husband Carl: "The city is really putting on a great show."

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