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A Gift and a Question Lead to Major New Exhibition


Presidio of San Francisco (September 13, 2008) — A grandson’s curiosity has given rise to a bold, new exhibit at the Presidio. Through its nine themed galleries, War and Dissent: The U.S. in the Philippines, 1898-1915, traces the rise of the Presidio into a major military installation and the growth of the United States into an imperial power. The free exhibit opens at the Presidio Officers’ Club October 22 and runs through February 22, 2009.

War and Dissent: The U.S. in the Philippines, 1898-1915 is the brainchild of Dr. Randolph Delehanty, historian with the Presidio Trust.

“This is one of our most ambitious historical exhibits,” said Delehanty. “It’s a model for what we can do at the Presidio linking the history that happened here with larger themes and the concerns of the present, and then reaching out to different communities in the Bay Area.”

“I always wanted to do an exhibit on the late 1890s-early 1900s because I know how important this period is to the Presidio,” Delehanty continued. “This was when the Presidio changed from a coast defense post into a global military installation as the U.S. annexed Hawaii and occupied the Philippines, Guam, and Samoa. These years were a turning point in the history of the Presidio and of San Francisco as the gateway to Asia.”

Delehanty got his chance to showcase this time period when a Sacramento man, Alan Harlow, gave his grandfather’s diary and 80 photographs he had collected to the Presidio Trust Library. Sgt. Hiram Harlow of the 51st Iowa Volunteer Infantry had trained at the Presidio. The donation came with a question: Mr. Harlow wanted to know why his grandfather was in the Philippines at the end of the 19th century.

Using Sgt. Harlow’s diary as one of its sources, the exhibit explores the war in the Philippines from several points of view. Delehanty presents Sgt. Harlow’s story, the struggles of the Philippine independence movement against both Spain and the United States and the experience of the Lopez family, three of whose brothers were imprisoned by the U.S. Army. Their sisters wrote a series of letters in 1901 and 1902, as the war was going on, trying to get their brothers out of jail.

“It’s a very intense story of one family and the impact of the war on them,” says Delehanty.

Using excerpts from the Lopez letters, Bindlestiff Studio, a Filipino-American theater group based in San Francisco, has created “Shadows of War,” a unique multi-media production that will be staged each month during the exhibit.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever done anything like this. Bindlestiff’s production will bring the period to life,” says Delehanty.

The production incorporates live actors and music silhouetted against a backdrop of historical photos that will illustrate the stories of the Lopez family and their involvement in the Filipino-American war.

Bindlestiff’s executive director, Alex Torres, is excited to see an exhibit that goes in depth into an event that is often no more than a “date and one line explanation” in most history books.

“Revisiting this juncture in American and Philippine history gives me a better understanding of my identity both as an American and a Filipino,” Torres said. “I am happy and grateful that the Presidio Trust is willing to present an exhibit on this short but significant event in American military and political history.”

“Shadows of War” begins November 6 and will take place the first Thursday of each month during the exhibit. The last performance will be February 5, 2009.

Within the United States, sharp dissent erupted over the Philippine war and grew into the country’s first national anti-war movement.

“Opinion leaders saw the war as a fateful shift away from a republic of citizens based on the consent of the governed to an imperial, colonial system whereby the U.S. ruled subject peoples,” explains Delehanty. “I decided to pair the story of this difficult war overseas with the domestic dissent it triggered as Americans struggled with their new role in the world.”

This dissent is given its voice in the exhibit through the writings of Mark Twain and other members of the Anti-Imperialist League, the African-American press, and a collection of original political cartoons of the time.

War and Dissent: The U.S. in the Philippines, 1898-1915 runs from October 22 through February 22, 2009 at the Presidio Officers’ Club Exhibition Hall, 50 Moraga Avenue, San Francisco. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. Admission is free.

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