"This elderly couple" said Gen. James Gavin, pointing, "is about to be evicted from the home they love, and we can't let it happen."
The elderly couple are the Gilbert Stuart portraits of George and Martha Washington, which are in danger of being taken away from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. And you might as well be taking the Alamo out of Texas if you listen to Grace Coogan, a member of the committee called "The Washingtons Belong in Boston."
Bostonians and former Bostonians now exiled to Washington hyped their cause last night at a reception in enemy territory -- namely Washington's Army Navy Club.
The aim: to raise enough money so the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston can match the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery's offer of $5 million to buy the portraits from a private Boston library. The portraits have hung since 1876 in the Museum of Fine Arts, known as the MFA. Reproductions of them were displayed at last night's gathering.
"I've always wanted to be at a press conference to announce a national campaign and here I am," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), to hearty laughs, "at the campaign to save the Stuarts."
Kennedy, in brief remarks, reminded the crowd of their history: "When Boston was under siege, General Washington came to save Boston and now all of you are going to . . . uh . . . save him."
Kennedy said the issue is "whether various collections all over the nation can be preserved in local communities or whether they will all be moved to our national center. We know from statistics that more people will see them in Boston than here." (Attendance is higher at Boston's MFA than at the National Portrait Gallery.)
"All of Boston feels the paintings ought to remain in Boston," said Howard Johnson, president of the MFA, which has agreed to match the money raised by the committee -- dollar for dollar. "And we'd be willing to loan the portraits to the Smithsonian."
"We've raised close to a million dollars," said co-chairwoman of the committee, Polly Logan (whose husband's uncle is the Logan of Boston's Logan Airport), a Republican national committeewoman from Massachusetts.
The evening was billed as "educational" -- an attempt to explain the manifold reasons why Boston should keep the Washingtons.
The event brought out some interested members of Congress. "Oh, Senator Percy!" cried Logan, shepherding Kennedy through the crowd, as she nearly bumped into the Republican senator from Illinois.
"Peg, would you stand up? Kennedy said at the microphone, motioning to Rep. Margaret Heckler (R-Mass.). "Just want everyone to see it's a non-partisan affair."
Heckler said later she would research the possibility of "putting a ban on the use of public funds (which the Smithsonian uses much of) to take away the Stuarts."
"It's like the colonial attitude," said a stony-faced Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) about the Smithsonian's efforts. "You take away art from developing countries to put it in cultural centers. Go to any European museum."
"I'm simply defending my roots," said Smithsonian metallurgist Martha Goodway, who has contributed $25 so far to the cause and bristled when a friend referred to her as a Washingtonian. "I've lived in Washington 10 years -- but I'm from Boston."