From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

No single document illuminates more dramatically the founding of our state than the Charter granted by King Charles II to William Penn. Even in its deteriorated condition, it retains the essential beauty of its design, and radiates a sense of moral and political authority.

The four-page original copy held by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) is, remarkably, the copy Penn retained for himself until his death in 1718. The Penn family brought the document back to Pennsylvania in 1812 and presented it to Governor Simon Snyder, at the same time that the capital was relocated to Harrisburg. There the Charter was placed in a secure, newly constructed “fire proof” building.

Until 1908, state officials displayed the Charter in at least two places – the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the attic of the State Library. In spite of efforts to protect the document by framing it and covering it with glass, it was extensively damaged by a leaking roof after a snowstorm. Subsequently, the Charter was removed from its frame and placed in storage.

On various special occasions in this century, The State Museum and State Archives cosponsored exhibits of the Charter. When the present State Museum opened in 1964, the Charter was prominently displayed in Memorial Hall. However, after the Commonwealth’s tercentennial in 1981, we recognized that the poor condition of the Charter and the imperfect environment of Memorial Hall left little choice but to remove it from public view. In 1984 a facsimile was put on display in its place, and the original was secured in a vault in the State Archives tower.

Today, Pennsylvania’s Charter is damaged, disfigured, and somewhat fragile. We have been determined, however, to find a way to properly display this central document of Pennsylvania’s history. This March, in honor of Charter Day, the Commission brought the Charter out for a brief exhibit in specially designed new cases. My hope is that this exhibit will become an annual event. Perhaps one day we can begin the painstaking task of restoration.

The challenge to the Commission is not only to preserve and display the Charter, but to provide access to all of our collections of documents and artifacts through exhibits, publications, public programs, and through new opportunities made possible by advances in information technology.

Above all, we must interpret the past – explain the meaning of our archives and collections – so that people can understand and enjoy the story of Pennsylvania and our state’s role in the national experience. Only when we reach out and fully engage our audiences will we make history come alive and fulfill our mission as the Commonwealth’s memory.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director