CHADDS FORD, Pa. (AP) – Listen my children and you shall hear, that Longfellow’s poem about Paul Revere,

While inspiring dozens of artists whose works you can see, historically is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Fortunately, the Brandywine River Museum is helping to set the record straight in a new exhibit titled “Revere’s Ride and Longfellow’s Legend.”

The exhibit features more than 50 works by artists and illustrators such as William Robinson Leigh, N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Leonard Everett Fisher and Charles Santore.

The works run the stylistic gamut from romanticism to realism, and include even parody. A 1977 comic strip from “Peanuts” creator Charles Schultz, for example, portrays Linus and Snoopy rehearsing a Revere-like heralding of the Great Pumpkin’s approach.

Through paintings, drawings, illustrations and other media, the exhibit explores the variety of ways Revere has been portrayed, and sometimes lampooned, throughout history. It also examines the inspiration for those images, whether it be historical fact or, as was often the case, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s classic ode, “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

“People have tended to assume that Longfellow was being historically accurate,” said Virginia O’Hara, associate curator for the Brandywine museum. ” … The poem certainly has value, but we’re trying, as historians have been doing for some time, to try to set the record straight.”

For example, contrary to the perception that might be drawn from Longfellow, Revere was not the sole rider spreading the alarm on the night of April 18, 1775. He was a member of a well-organized network of patriots that had been monitoring British troop movements and efforts to seize American munitions caches.

“He wasn’t an isolated hero, as the poem may suggest,” O’Hara said.

Nor did Revere arrive in Concord, Mass., “at two by the village clock,” having been stopped by a British patrol after leaving Lexington. Revere’s fellow riders, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, managed to escape the British patrol, and Prescott, whom the other two happened upon along the way, was the only one who made it to Concord.

Longfellow’s most glaring error, however, is his description of Revere, “impatient to mount and ride,” anxiously watching the tower of Christ Church to learn whether British troops stationed in Boston were crossing the Charles River by boat on their way to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington, or marching by land across Boston Neck.

In fact, fearing that he might not be able to cross the river from Boston to Charlestown and ride on to alert the countryside and warn Adams and Hancock, Revere made signal arrangements ahead of time with the church rector. When Revere learned of the British plan, he instructed the rector to show two lanterns to warn fellow patriots that the Redcoats were making a river crossing before marching north.

“The biggest inaccuracy in the poem is the lantern story,” said Edith Steblecki, curator of the Paul Revere Memorial Association in Boston, which assisted O’Hara and contributed several items to the exhibit. “Longfellow has it as a signal to Revere, and it was actually a signal from Revere.”

The exhibit opens with a brief introduction to Longfellow, who some believe was less concerned about the historical accuracy of his poem than in trying to find a way to draw the attention of Americans to the drumbeat of another war that was growing louder in April 1860, when he began writing his poem after a visit to Christ Church.

“It was likely he was looking at Revere as sort of a symbol of unity and looking back in America’s past for inspiration,” Steblecki said.

From Longfellow, the exhibit turns to Revere himself, offering examples of his engravings and silver work and descriptions of his political activities in the years leading up to war. A look at the man is followed by depictions of his famous ride and the ensuing battles of Lexington and Concord, including two 1775 engravings by Amos Doolittle.

Perhaps the most visually striking image in the exhibit is Leigh’s “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” (1917), a shadowy, dramatic portrayal of both rider and horse that graces a 24-page booklet accompanying the exhibit.

From historical depictions of Revere, the exhibit turns to his impact on popular culture over more than two centuries.

That impact ranges from a 1914 Thomas Edison film to amusing children’s tales, such as Robert Lawson’s “Mr. Revere and I,” told from the horse’s perspective, and finally to crass commercialism.

“Paul Revere made history that night,” a bourbon whiskey ad from the early 20th century proudly proclaims. “During that same generation the family of James E. Pepper founded its distillery.”

The impetus for the exhibit was a conversation that O’Hara had a few years ago with Philadelphia illustrator Santore, who at the time was illustrating a new version of Longfellow’s poem, published last year by HarperCollins.

Several of Santore’s illustrations are included in the exhibit, and he is scheduled to appear at a book signing Nov. 13.

The exhibit opened Saturday and runs through Nov. 21, after which it will travel to the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Mass., for a six-month run beginning Jan. 29.



On the Net:

Brandywine River Museum: http://www.brandywinemuseum.org

AP-ES-09-12-04 1157EDT



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