If a picture tells a thousand words, local rare-book and artifact collector/shop owner from Provo Brent Ashworth can recite every last one from the volumes his collection speaks.
Ashworth is spending Independence Day doing what he does best — playing show-and-tell with his collection. The hoard he has amassed speaks to his personality — eclectic and detailed. For every Jimi Hendrix autographed record there is a 1791 George Washington campaign button and a story to go with it.
The visual history lesson is on display at the Grand Salon at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City from Thursday to Saturday as part of radio and television personality Glenn Beck’s "Independence Through History" museum, which is part of his "Man in the Moon" production.
Beck joined Ashworth, historian and fellow collector David Barton, Dallas area collector Reid Moon and Beck’s radio show producer and head writer Stu Burguirre in sorting through the piles of history for nearly an hour to decide what would go on display for the museum and what pieces of national history wouldn’t make the cut. The magnitude of the collection extends beyond its monetary value and chronicles the highs and the lows of American history, teaching with each story told.
Beck summed up Ashworth’s worth in two words: "National treasure."
“In this time — with everything being erased and being changed, with a president whose wife even said we need to change our history — to have access to these documents when so much is being changed in our history books, it is so important to keep this all in private hands. Not in the universities, not with the government. It needs to be kept in private hands and stored and protected. if I had clay pots, I’d roll all that stuff up and stuff it inside.”
The ever-humble collector shrugged off the compliment and explained what drives him in simple yet profound words.
“I don’t know about that (being called a national treasure), but I’m just a collector. I love show-and-tell; I really am a kindergartner at heart. It’s not worth having if you don’t show it to people. It’s our history and they don’t teach our history in the schools anymore,” Ashworth said.
Ashworth may have the heart of a kindergartner, but it’s one of a teacher as well — a sentiment Barton echoes.
“The reason Brent is important is because he believes history can repeat itself,” Barton said. “If you believe history doesn’t repeat itself and we can’t learn from it, then guys like Brent aren’t important.
"What Brent’s got is not only one of the most unique collections in the world, but especially important for Americans, because it shows us what we’ve done wrong — things we should repeat and things we shouldn’t repeat," Barton said. "The problem is when you get in a sterile classroom, they can make it look like anything they want. But when you pull out the original artifacts, that adds a whole other level of credibility.”
Ashworth serves as general counsel for Zija, but his true passion lies with his little shop around the corner in Provo.
“I guess you can say I work at Zija,” Ashworth said. “But I always try to find a way to sneak over to my shop. It’s what I love; I love to collect, I love to tell stories and I love to share it all.”
The Star Spangled event features Beck and his love for storytelling, mixed with unprecedented technology, which has sold out the 20,000-seat USANA Amphitheatre — but it’s the history and storytelling of this local national treasure that has overwhelmed Beck.
As the hour unfolded and item after item was shown and story after story was told, Beck summed up his feelings in what can only be described as genuine respect and gratitude in a statement made to Ashworth.
“Brent, you are what this country needs. I can’t believe everything you’ve brought and preserved; without men like you, we would not have a chance to save this nation,” Beck said.
The tours of the museum are sold out, but at Ashworth’s store, B. Ashworth's, at 55 N. University Ave. at Provo Town Square, visitors are always welcome — as long as there is time for a story.