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Alexandria To Initiate 'America's 400th'

Eighteen-month celebration will highlight interactive events.

Alexandria will be the first port-of-call for "The Godspeed Sail," the lead-off event for "America's 400th Anniversary - Jamestown 2007" celebration marking the first permanent English settlement in North America in 1607.

In preparation for that happening, members of Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association received a briefing from Ross Richardson, director, Communications, Jamestown 2007, last Friday morning during ACVA's FunSide Forum at Christ Church Parish House.

In addition to serving as the inaugural event of the 18-month celebration, the purpose of The Godspeed Sail is "to engage communities ... and give them a taste of Jamestown, Virginia where ... the building of our nation's rich tapestry began," according to Richardson. The replicated tall ship is scheduled to arrive in Alexandria on May 27 for a nine-day visit.

"This will be the longest stay for the ship in any of its six ports-of-call," Richardson said. Other ports on the list are Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Newport.

"EACH CITY has been selected for their unique role in the building of America ... possessing an historic, cultural and maritime heritage all their own," according to Richardson. As part of the visit there will be on-shore events, known as "The Landing Party," depicting life and activities of the early 17th century.

Landing Party components are designed to entertain and engage the audiences while, at the same time, serving as a classroom about "the historic importance of Jamestown's settlement and its legacies" and experiences of those first settlers. Costumed interpreters and an array of dockside activities will bring these to life.

"Originally, the General Assembly set us up as Jamestown's 400th Anniversary. But, when we started selling the event to the rest of the nation we found it made a lot more sense to people in other areas to call it America's 400th Anniversary," Richardson said.

"Virginia has actually held commemorative events about every 50 years since 1907. We wanted people to come to Virginia from all over," he said.

Accompanying events in Virginia and other states, commemoration activities are also planned in Great Britain to mark the anniversary, according to Richardson. There are more than 50 state and national partners working with Jamestown 2007.

IN ADDITION to the arrival of The Godspeed, Alexandria is planning a series of activities to mark the 400th anniversary. "We are really ready for this celebration," Jean Taylor-Federico, director, Office of Historic Alexandria, told the audience.

"Because we have lived through our own 250th Anniversary celebration, we are concentrating on some different things for this," she said.

As well as city-wide events, "We will encourage neighborhoods and civic associations to develop things for their particular areas," said Patrick Butler, chair, Alexandria 400th Anniversary Festivities.

The lead project for Alexandria will be completion of the restoration of the Freedmen's Cemetery Memorial Park at the intersection of South Washington and Church streets, according to Federico. Funds for this project come from Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project mitigation monies.

"It is expected that by Spring 2006, our city archaeologists will be conducting additional surveys and will be able to provide a complete report on the location of burials of some of the estimated 1,200 individuals who were interred at this site from 1864 to 1869," she said.

Other city plans include:

* An exhibit at The Lyceum focusing on community celebrations "which will treat the role of preservation as a constant within those celebrations." It will highlight the first Jamestown committee established during the 19th century in Alexandria.

* A program of historic publications such as coloring books, guides to schools and churches focusing on various aspects of Alexandria and Virginia history.

* Special events such as a lecture series, concerts by the Alexandria Symphony, presentations at the Little Theater of Alexandria, and other programs emphasizing historic preservation.

The Lyceum's annual Potomac History Symposium, scheduled for Oct. 27, 2007, will be devoted to themes and historical concepts associated with Jamestown and settlement of the new world.

As well as being the first stop of "The Godspeed Sail," Alexandria will also host the first venue of the traveling exhibition, "Uncovering Home," according to Federico.

Examining the discovery and recent excavations of the original James Fort, the exhibit will be shown in City Hall to coincide with the arrival of the tall ship and kick off the city's Jamestown 2007 celebration. These two initial events will be joined by activities in more than 130 communities statewide throughout the 18 months.

Other highlights include: Yorktown 225th Anniversary, Oct. 19-22, 2006; A National Teach-In, November 2006, through an electronic classroom; African-American Heritage Events, January to September 2007; Forums on the Future of Democracy, Sept. 16-19, 2007; and Virginia Indian Cultural Activities and Events, August 2007.

The premier signature event, "America's Anniversary Weekend," will take place May 11-13, 2007 at the Jamestown sites featuring pageantry, musical performances, cultural presentations and celebrity appearances. President and First Lady George and Laura Bush as well as Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Royal Family have been invited, according to Richardson.

More information is available by calling the Jamestown 2007 office at 757-253-4659 or at www.Americas400thAnniversary.com.