From Bank of America’s deep, dark vaults came treasures of the historical kind Monday, priceless presidential artifacts dating back to George Washington.
In addition to trillions of dollars in assets, Bank of America holds a vast collection of historical artifacts gathered from various legacy banks it has acquired through the years.
On Washington’s birthday, the bank unveiled some of its prizes in a free exhibition in Charlotte. They include:
▪ A shipping document signed by George Washington and bearing the presidential seal from 1794.
▪ A letter sent by Abraham Lincoln – who was often thrust into debt by the lavish spending of his wife, Mary – to the U.S. Trust bank.
▪ A bank check signed by James Polk, the 11th president, who was born near Charlotte in 1795.
Most of the items in the display have never been exhibited before, said Allen Blevins, Bank of America’s historian who also oversees the company’s corporate art collection, which contains thousands of works.
While the exhibition is topical because it is presidential election season, Blevins said his main impetus was to have a show for the bank’s heritage center related to Presidents Day, which falls every February.
It also dovetails with the bank’s underwriting of conservation for the famous Gilbert Stewart painting “George Washington (Landsdowne Portrait)” at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.
From predecessor banks
Many of the presidential artifacts came from the legacy Washington financial institution Bank of Metropolis, whose 1814 founders included James Monroe. Other presidents banked there over time, contributing other items to the exhibition.
One item Blevins discovered in Bank of America’s holdings was particularly poignant to him.
In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette, a French hero of the American Revolution, was invited by then-President James Monroe to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the war. In his grand parade, Lafayette had an empty black stagecoach adorned with funeral banners honoring his close friends, the late George and Martha Washington.
Those banners are to be shown in a separate exhibit in the corporate center lobby near the heritage center in Founders Hall.
“Those were really precious artifacts,” Blevins said.
In surveying the bank’s historical items, Blevins also discovered in its San Francisco archives a copy of a newspaper account of the reaction in the Capitol to George Washington’s death that includes a speech by Thomas Jefferson, then president of the Senate, and a response from President John Adams.
“When I opened the box and read the article, I got tears in my eyes,” Blevins said, “knowing that here was what was being said about the loss of the first president of the United States.”
Want to go?
The exhibit of presidential memorabilia – including more than 70 historical items, engravings and photographs – will be on display through July at Bank of America Heritage Center in Founders Hall, 100 N. Tryon St., with a small satellite exhibit in the adjoining lobby of the Corporate Center. The display is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays, and admission is free.