THE PRESIDENT'S HOUSE
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Before there was a White House in Washington DC, George Washington occupied a mansion in Philadelphia from 1790 to 1797, and John Adams occupied it from 1797 to 1800. Located on Independence Mall, the Nation’s sacred founding ground. Little remains of the original building, but an archeological exploration unearthed the mansion’s original slave quarters. This discovery sparked lively community debates on the most appropriate course of action for the development of the exhibit.
EAI was selected to make a previous exhibit installation design by others to be more responsive to client and public need, in particular the views and voices of the African American community. EAI turned the slave quarters controversy into a dialogue and researched and developed a content language that is historically accurate, raised thought-provoking questions and compelling answers, and respected the separate storylines.
Weaving two very different stories, and two very different conceptions of “freedom,” was a key challenge. The story of George Washington and the invention of American presidency is well documented, with a trove of paintings, documents, and images. The second—and much more emotionally provocative— story of the enslavement of African Americans has almost no available imagery or artifacts. The unique nature of the physical site added to the challenge. An open-air exhibit, exposed to the elements 24/7, with minimal security, required all interpretive elements to be weather- and vandal-proof.
The National Park Service, the city of Philadelphia, and the community has embraced this project as a way to open discussion on the difficult issue of slavery.
This first presentation of slavery at a National Park Service site, elevates the presence and memory of the enslaved on par with the depiction of George Washington and the more familiar denizens of the building. — JERRY EISTERHOLD