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I’ve looked, moreover, and haven’t yet found any evidence (beyond Browne’s stirring narrative) that Arch Willard had Joe Munroe in mind when, a hundred years later, he painted the famous Ancient Drummer-boy. His fellow-Masons report that Willard, Senior (Archibald’s father) was the final model of two who sat for the likeness. Both father and son were anxious to “do something special” for the Centennial and succeeded far beyond any reasonable expectation.

Art experts have always pooh-poohed the “Spirit of ‘76” (originally titled, “Yankee Doodle”), as little more than a cartoon, not serious art. Well and good. Would the experts kindly name a piece of serious art that has ever been received instantaneously and durably into the public heart, as has this embodiment of Willard’s patriotism?

The painting, like the Corporal Joe story, captures something of what we all wish we were. Especially when we forget to be critical and sophisticated. Or, for that matter, historically truthful.


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