A pair of glittering ruby-red slippers from "The Wizard of Oz." Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Darth Vader’s black mask. The first draft of the Declaration of Independence. And a life preserver from the doomed Titanic.
All of these elements were part of the Rights & Responsibilities Pop-Up Museum at Glenn Beck’s Mercury Studios over the weekend. The exhibit included an extensive display of items from Beck’s personal collection and others loaned to Mercury Studios from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.
The museum combined important historical documents with pieces of American culture to paint a picture of the lifestyle and freedoms our nation has enjoyed.
“I’m overwhelmed with what he has in his collection, and it teaches us so much about what it means to be an American,” Alan Lowe, executive director of the Lincoln museum, said in a phone interview. “Item after item, I’m just going, 'Wow.' It’s either something what was collected or borrowed just to show an amazing history.”
But do enough Americans fully understand their freedoms? Sadly, the answer appears to be no. And that raises questions about our where we are heading as a nation.
Protecting our rights is so vital, yet many people do not even understand the rights they have, said Beck, founder and CEO of Mercury Radio Arts.
“If we don’t remember them, and we don’t fight for them, even for the people we don’t like, we’re going to lose them,” Beck said Saturday at Mercury Studios near Dallas, Texas.
Do Americans know their rights?
Four in 10 Americans could not name a single right protected by the First Amendment, a 2017 study by the Annenburg Public Policy Center found.
Those rights are: Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government without fear of punishment or retaliation.
The nation is currently at a “constitutional pivot point,” according to Beck. “The main point we’re trying to make is our constitutional rights are under attack on all points,” Beck said.
Within the story told by the Mercury One pop-up museum is a story about preserving America’s history, a time-consuming and expensive pursuit.
What's behind the partnership with the museum?
“The reason we’re involved in the library is I am not for public institutions,” Beck said. “I’ve seen the arrogance of a few public institutions. For instance, we have a pair of ruby slippers. The Smithsonian has a pair of ruby slippers. The Smithsonian will tell you that that is ‘the’ pair of ruby slippers, except if you actually call them, they’ll say they don’t know if they were the ones used in the movie because there are other pairs. Because it’s the Smithsonian, it’s ‘the’ ruby slippers."
“And we have really important documents in history,” Beck continued. "And in these public institutions, sometimes they’re buried and not shown. I was asked for my library to be donated to a university, and they brought me into town to see how my documents would be cared for.”
Beck was brought before a huge vault and when it was opened, “there they had everything for Jimmy Stewart his whole life."
“And I thought, but it’s in a vault,” Beck said. “It’s not seen. That’s not good.”
The Lincoln museum, for example, is funded by a private foundation. A few years ago, it purchased “an amazing collection of Abraham Lincoln things.”
The blood-splattered fan Lincoln’s wife held at the theater, and his gloves and his hat from that night were a part of what the museum bought.
“I called them because I read a story a couple of weeks ago that they have like 15 months to come up with $9.5 million,” Beck said. “They’ve already paid over $10 million, but if they can’t make the money, it’s going to go to auction. It will be split up most likely, which should never happen, and it probably will go into private hands. And here’s what’s bothersome to me. Most people don’t know those exist, because they were never shown or seen in public since his death. They went from person to person to person, all in private sales, for their whole life.”
Beck said he’s working with the museum to develop a campaign to stop the items from going into auction.
“They wanted to bring the hat and gloves down here, but they’re paper thin. And they’re just so fragile, because they’ve not been in the hands of a real curator until now. And they just don’t even want to move them, because they’ll just disintegrate.”
Preserving parts of our history is so important because, Beck said, “once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
But preserving history is a task that’s very time-consuming and expensive. Getting an original copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address from Illinois to Texas, for example, wasn't easy.
“There are so many procedures that have to be followed,” Lowe said. “You have to think about security, temperature, humidity, lighting, and how to ship this important part of American history.”
The document is only allowed into the light three days a year.
"It’s a very special thing to have it displayed," Beck said.
Another item loaned from the Lincoln museum was an effigy doll of Lincoln that has a white paper face, Beck said. “And if you pull the mask up, it’s a black face, and they’re saying that he’s a black man in white skin.”
“It was horrible when they did it to Abe Lincoln; it’s still horrible today,” he continued, referring to mainstream media attacks on rapper Kanye West that accused him of being "white" for his conservative beliefs and support of President Donald Trump.
Among the other exhibits were a lock of Lincoln’s hair, his presidential wax seal that was used on proclamations and laws, his front door key, and the name plate in front of his door, “A. Lincoln.”
Amid the historic relics were newer reminders of our nation’s history: the bright pink "pussy hats" worn by participants in the left-wing Women’s March.
With an estimated hundreds of thousands of participants nationwide, the Women’s March is firmly planted in our nation’s history.
“I don’t even agree with what they say,” Beck said, referring to some of the group’s rhetoric. “But I support their right to say it.”
Standing in stark contrast to our free speech and other freedoms, the museum showed what can happen when governments fall into total tyranny.
Did the exhibit have a darker side?
The darker side of the exhibit included a wooden guillotine from the French Revolution, Nazi Germany artifacts, a white Klu Klux Klan robe and hood, and a Vlad the Impaler vampire slayer kit.
“We all know vampires aren’t real,” Beck said. “But if you’re Vlad, you can call anyone a vampire and nobody’s going to stop you because you rule them. If vampires exist, it gives you permission to kill them.”
Enclosed in a glass case and illuminated by blood-red lighting, a 19th century vampire slayer kit featured items torn straight from a Dracula film: a brown weathered Bible, a large cross, a garlic bulb, sharp wooden stakes, and a mallet to drive them through the "vampire’s" heart.
During a tour of the exhibit on Saturday, a group of people took special notice of an “interrogation chair” featured in a Nazi Germany display.
With eyes wide open and jaws dropped, they pointed to the stamp on the dark wooden chair, that roughly translates to: “Department of Homeland Security,” the same name of the U.S. federal agency. Straps were attached to the chair’s arm rests.
Towering over the display was a giant red Nazi flag with a black swastika in the middle.
It’s a reminder of the damage that can be done by just one evil, very determined man, Lowe said.
It’s also a reminder of what America has and how important it is to preserve it.
“People have to find their way back to the Constitution,” Beck said. “The Bill of Rights is the glue that holds us together.”
The museum was open over the weekend and has now ended.