- Associated Press - Saturday, January 9, 2016

BYRON, Ill. (AP) - They say that freedom isn’t free, but the words that are its foundation can be.

A Byron man and his business partner have launched an effort to get the ideas and ideals that helped build a nation into the hands, and on the walls, of more people - and a million would be a good start.

Ken Foss of Byron and Jeff Johnson of Genoa started the Million Constitution Challenge with the goal of getting the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence to as many people as they can.

Their website, WeThePeople.com, is selling reprints of the historic documents - but these aren’t just your everyday textbook reprints. The digitally scanned copies were made from painstakingly produced prints steeped in lithographic lore, the handiwork of a Czech-born immigrant who was fascinated with capturing and preserving the look of the original documents.

For $99 at their website (scroll down to bottom and click on the “Million Constitution Challenge”), full-size (55-by-33 inch) or 3/4-size (41-by-21 inch) copies of the documents are available. And with each purchase a person makes, another copy will be sent for free, in hopes that it will be donated to a veteran or veterans group, or anyone who would love to have one on display.

The promotion is the latest chapter in a fascinating tale of discovery that began in a warehouse.

In 2011, Foss and Johnson were tearing into old, wooden crates left behind by former tenants at a warehouse they owned in Kingston in DeKalb County. They knew the crates held printing materials, but they had no idea what kind of connection to U.S. history they were about to uncover.

They began pulling out metal press plates, giant lithographic prints, and glass photo negatives and positives that revealed images of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Foss and Johnson’s find also included about 10,000 prints of the Constitution and 100 prints of the Declaration of Independence.

Foss contacted an expert and learned that the prints and the plates that made them were the work of Czech-born lithographer Theodore Ohman.

Ohman learned the lithographic printing process from his grandfather as a boy, and became fascinated with capturing and preserving the original look of both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence after coming to the U.S., according to literature written by Walter Mahan, which accompanied the collection.

Ohman employed a complicated and painstaking process to create what was considered to be the truest replica of the Constitution.

In 1953, he printed thousands of copies on his four-step printing press in Memphis, Tennessee.

Some of his prints have been displayed at the National Archives, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

The two have made several television appearances to discuss their find, including nationwide, on “Fox and Friends.” They were also invited to the Freedom Summit in Chicago in November.

“We met some very interesting people. It was an honor to be there,” Foss said.

He said he hopes the plates and glass negatives and positives can find a permanent, safe home. “They’re very fragile,” he said. “They need to be put in a museum.”

It’s been long journey for the pieces of history - from Czechoslovakia to Tennessee to an Illinois village. The plates and lithographs are much like the person who made them, a man yearning to be free. Theodore Ohman found his freedom and realized his dream in America. Today, his work has been freed from the confines of a wooden crate, and a new dream has been born: The Million Constitution Challenge.

“Ohman’s goal was to have a copy of the Constitution in every school,” Foss said. “We hope to accomplish that.”


Source: Sauk Valley Media, https://bit.ly/1RPFVZE


Information from: Dixon Telegraph, https://www.saukvalley.com

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