Big Names, Big Bucks For Jamestown's Big 400

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 12, 2007

Every half-century or so, Virginia throws a party to commemorate the arrival of English colonists on its shores. This year comes a biggie: the 400th anniversary. The whole world's invited, and the guest list is especially long and prestigious.

Even the queen of the mother country plans to cross the Atlantic to help mark the occasion.

Already, the cost of activities surrounding the bash is upward of $200 million. The trick has been how to celebrate something long buried under a mound of dirt: Jamestown. But major archaeological discoveries in recent years have helped Virginia piece together the outlines of the original settlement and how the colonists managed to survive.

The commonwealth hopes to wow an estimated 90,000 visitors with a three-day celebration, May 11-13, including musical performances, fireworks, exhibits and a flotilla of 17th-century replica ships, to commemorate the founding of the first permanent English colony in the New World.

Sandra Day O'Connor, the former Supreme Court justice, will be on hand to make sure no one forgets that the Jamestown expedition helped give birth to the United States and its principles of representative democracy and free enterprise. But the headliner is Queen Elizabeth II, who has announced her intent to visit the United States in May. President Bush has also been invited to the gala weekend, but the White House has yet to R.S.V.P.

The queen, who visited Jamestown for its 350th anniversary soon after ascending the throne, will not attend the three-day gala, according to a Buckingham Palace spokesman who would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

Although the spokesman declined to say more than that the queen will come that month, citing security concerns, the Times of London has reported that she will visit the United States from May 3-9, stay at the Williamsburg Inn, visit Jamestown and make a detour to see the Kentucky Derby. A White House spokesman said a state dinner in her honor is planned for the first week of May.

Festivities began last May with the opening of an archaeological museum in Jamestown and the launch of the Godspeed, a replica of one of the original ships to make the crossing. "Jamestown Live!" brought about 400 children from 49 states to Jamestown in November for a national teach-in. The event featured a webcast that went out to about 1 million students throughout the country. The commemoration will wind down with a forum on democracy in the fall.

The planning goes back more than a decade.

On April 4, 1994, William M. Kelso jabbed a shovel into the earth at Jamestown, hoping to find the remains of the original fort built by English colonists almost 400 years earlier.

Other archaeologists thought he was crazy. Previous excavations suggested the 1607 fort had been washed into the James River.

But Kelso, an archaeological crew of one, hoped to find it in time for the 400th. With 13 years to go, he did it in just under a year.

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