Celebrating America on July Fourth in the UK

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Watchdog,Richard Pollock,United Kingdom

Like most Americans, I celebrated July 4th with hamburgers, hot dogs and American flags. But there weren't many other Americans at this gathering, as my wife and I were in Bath, England, about 100 miles Southwest from London.

My wife discovered the event and so we found ourselves driving up a narrow, single country lane to a most unusual lawn party. Soon, about 500 Brits surrounded us, all seeming quite happy to celebrate our Independence Day from Great Britain.

The event was held on the grounds of a place called the American Museum in Britain. We were surprised to find enthusiastic Brits bringing blankets and folding chairs, waving American flags, eating hamburgers, barbeque and hot dogs, and dancing to an Elvis impersonating band that belted out rock 'n' roll music.

They were among three million British visitors who have visited the museum. Hiding out on a remote Southwest England estate, the museum boasts the largest collection of decorative American artworks outside of the United States. Who knew?

In an age when anti-Americanism sometimes seems rampant throughout Europe — including in England, where its citizens are egged on by the BBC's non-stop American bashing — those attending this Fourth of July celebration rejected the idea that anybody in Bath was anti-American.

"That doesn't exist, at least not among the English people I know," said Mark Sawyer, age 77, who wore blue suede shoes and happily boogied in front of the rock band. He said the lawn audience consisted of "hundreds of American rockers."

John Bryant, his friend who also wore blue suede shoes, agreed. "I don't see American distrust," he said.

I also found Paully Ludlow Jones, a Pilate instructor in downtown Bath, who was wearing an American flag skirt. "You've saved us a couple of times when we needed it. And we appreciated it," she said.

The museum itself was founded in 1961 at the height of the Cold War when the world was focused on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, President John F. Kennedy and the Berlin Crisis.

Dallas Pratt, a New York psychiatrist and John Judkyn, an English antique dealer, founded the museum that year and began to collect items, mainly from old homes in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Today, the museum holds more than 11,000 Americana objects and is housed in a large and rambling estate home called Claverton Manor.

Inside, the rooms give British visitors a taste of various stages of American history, from a room devoted to a late 17th Century Puritan home, to a New Orleans bedroom from the 1860's.

Native American artifacts, Shaker furniture, quilts and folk art can be found throughout the museum.

The museum also displays iconic art works like a classic Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington and a 1940 Grant Wood lithograph of horses in Iowa City.

The museum explores contemporary American culture, recently featuring a Marilyn Monroe exhibit called "Hooray for Hollywood" and an open air screening of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."

Another show was launched called "Gangsters and Gunslingers: The Good, the Bad and the Memorabilia."

The museum sits on 125 acres of rolling hills that includes a replica of Washington's Mount Vernon estate garden. A 1935 bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln stands just outside of Washington's garden.

Richard Wendorf, an American, is the museum's director. The former Northwest University associate dean and Harvard University librarian supervises a $15 million endowment and 150 volunteers. The volunteers are almost all Brits.

In a country that showcases a steady stream of anti-Americanism on the BBC from London, it was a pleasant surprise indeed to find an oasis of pro-American sentiment in a lovely spot on Shakespeare's 'sceptered isle.

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