Friday, August 15, 2003

Midway visitors get history lesson

Lewis and Clark display celebrates trek to the West

By Ellen R. Stapleton
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Visitors to the first day of the Kentucky State Fair didn't just get their fill of thrillway rides and corn dogs - they also got lessons in state history.

Schoolchildren and families took a trip back in time as they journeyed through a 22,000-square-foot educational exhibit about the bicentennial of Meriweather Lewis and William Clark's groundbreaking expedition to the West.

These present-day explorers started by walking the route Lewis and Clark traveled from Council Bluffs in Iowa to Camp Disappointment in Montana on a colored floor map. Outside the exhibit, they read a copy of a recruiting poster for the Corps of Discovery: "Wanted. Good hunters, stout, healthy, unmarried men accustomed to the woods and capable of bearing bodily fatigue for expedition to the western ocean."

Nine Kentucky men responded to the call. Charles Floyd, who suffered a burst appendix, was the only member to die. The youngest, George Shannon, almost lost his life when he went missing for two weeks.

Clark, a Virginia native, grew up near Louisville and became friends with Lewis as an Army captain. Lewis went on to become President Thomas Jefferson's personal secretary and was selected to lead the expedition after the Louisiana Purchase.

About 700 students toured the exhibit Thursday, said fair exhibit curator Stephanie Darst. About 10,000 are expected by the end of the fair's 11-day run.

The exhibit, sponsored by The Gheens Foundation, is just the beginning of bicentennial celebrations, since the Corps of Discovery returned home in fall 1806.

In several weeks re-enactors will board the keelboat Discovery and float down the Ohio River to Louisville to recreate the first phase of the expedition. An 8-foot bronze statue of an important expedition member - Clark's black slave, York - will be unveiled Oct. 14.

Until then, Kentuckians have the state fair with all its trimmings.

There will be plenty of corn dogs, which was the lunch of choice Thursday for Jennifer Yates of Louisville and her three children. They had checked out the petting zoo and an exhibit on the centennial of flight by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

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