'On Wings of Time' was a huge expo in the county

March 22, 2012|Linda Irvin-Craig
  • Cast of the 1937 On Wings of Time pageant, which was part of a larger exposition to recognize the 200th anniversary of the Settling of Washington County, the 175th anniversary of the Founding of Hagerstown and the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. The group received a commemorative coin for the event.
Submitted photo

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles about one of Washington County's and Hagerstown's largest expositions, "On Wings of Time."

In 1936, community leaders were sent a letter detailing one of the largest expositions in the eastern United States. It would be staged in Hagerstown and called "On Wings of Time."

"In 1937, under the sponsorship of the Washington County Historical Society, this community will elaborately observe the anniversaries of three momentous events in local and national history: The 200th Anniversary of the Settling of Washington County; The 175th Anniversary of the Founding of Hagerstown; and The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam," opened the letter asking for the leaders' participation in bringing the event to fruition.

Under the leadership of Edward M. Tenney and Park W. T. Loy, preparations for "On Wings of Time" appears to have taken over the entire community for its two-week duration, Sept. 4 to 17, 1937, with an exposition, associated parades and a pageant.

Production companies vied for the contract to oversee the pageant portion. John B. Rogers Co. from Ohio was chosen at a fee of $15,000 to create a terraced stage 450 feet long, a script, costumes, props and scenery and a cast of 1,000.

According to information from the Smithsonian Institution, the archival material from 1929 to 1934 of the Rogers Co., founded in 1903, is held in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., and includes musical scores, props and instructions on how to pack scenery for transport.

The local advisory committee included the Hagerstown and county elected officials, mayors of each of the smaller municipalities and leaders from many of the unincorporated villages in the county. 

In addition, major businesses and corporate sectors, and many of their spouses, and labor unions brought their expertise and manpower together to produce what was expected to attract more than 150,000 visitors to the county over the length of the exposition. Business representatives included M.P. Moller Jr., Thomas W. Pangborn, Robert W. McCauley, E.N. Funkhouser, Charles G. Eyerly, S.H. Heironemus, J.A. Funkhouser, Edward M. Updegraff, George F. Updegraff, William U. Roulette, C. E. Hilliard, Harry S. Myers, E. W. Gans, John S. Kausler, Palmer Tennant, Judge Frank G. Wagaman, John Pangborn, Roy Danzer, Milton Kohler, Henry Holzapfel Jr., W. Preston Lane, Edward M. Oswald Sr., J. O. Snyder, D. A. Stickell, Elmer Eyler,  J.V. Jamsion Jr., R. Paul Smith, Harold F. Bester, L. Vinton Hershey, C. Walter Baker, T.B. Cushwa, Byron J. Grimes, John D. Zentmyer, Sherman M. Fairchild, Mary Bester, John Dunn, J. Frank Ridenour, J. Lloyd Harshman, Edward M. Tenney, Barry Hartle and Stuart Bushong. 

For many, the larger focus was on a commemorative for Antietam, therefore a special homecoming committee to serve the Sharpsburg portion of the event was headed by A. L. Poffenberger.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed the National Oversight Commission, on which he also served. Serving on the community were both of Maryland's U.S. senators Millard E. Tydings and George L. Radcliffe and the 6th District Congressional Representative, David J. Lewis were joined by Sen. Harry F. Byrd of Virginia, Congressman Charles A. Plumley of Vermont, Gen. Milton A. Reckord of Maryland and Park W.T. Loy, the local general chairman from the Washington County Historical Society. Roosevelt addressed the crowds at Antietam Battlefield site on the last day of the event.

A "no rent" headquarters for the celebration was set up at 45 E. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown, in space provided by the Troy Laundry Co. The office opened on Nov. 23, 1936, with a supervisor, two stenographers and a file clerk, who were assigned by the federal Work Progress Administration, and a promise of a larger staff as needed during the preparations and event.

Commemorative coin

On Nov. 25, a group of four directors of the society met in the new headquarters with the special coin committee, R. Carl Medford and H.E. McFadden. Their guest was, William Marks Simpson, the commissioned applicant from the Maryland Institute of Art, School of Sculpture, for the design of the commemorative coin. Simpson submited several proposed designs. The design selected showed the Burnside Bridge on the front, with McClellan and Lee on the obverse. These half-dollars were approved by Congress and minted by the U.S. Mint.

However, a delay by Congress to commission the coins disrupted the early sales orders, which had been intended to help finance the pageant. There was suspicion expressed by board members that those planning an event for the Battle of Gettysburg the following year had the political clout in Congress to get their approval moved ahead of Antietam.

Sale of the coins never reached the anticipated volume and, as a consequence, thousands were returned to the Mint and melted down. A few can be found through online collectors and auction sites. WCHS maintains some within its collection. Their value has significantly appreciated over time.

The exposition begins

Daily events began with a Coronation Ball for Miss Antietam on Sept. 3, the Friday before the opening of the exposition. Each day had a separate theme, the first being Grand Official Opening Day, then came National Capitol Day, Labor Day, Pioneer Day, All Maryland Day, Firemen's and Fraternal Day, Service Club Day, Sister Cities Day, Religious Recognition Day, National Anthem Day, Agriculturalists Day, Aviation Day, Sister State Day and Battle Anniversary Day on Sept. 17, when President Franklin Roosevelt was the honored guest as the focus moved from Hagerstown to Sharpsburg.

A 64-page program book, printed by Hagerstown Bookbinding and Printing Co., then located at the corner of Franklin and Jonathan streets, was sold for 25 cents. This program listed the multitude of daily events, parades, pageant scenes and exhibits that were all a part of the exposition.

Information was given for the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and its collection and at least 28 historic homes in the area. A self-guided tour of the Antietam Battlefield was published and guided tours were offered daily, leaving at 10 a.m. from Hagerstown.

Other activities

Goodyear blimp and airplane rides were offered for sightseeing. A railroad siding was set up within the exposition grounds to display equipment and rolling stocks from many periods of railroad history. Concerts by bands from Hagerstown, Keedysville, Boonsboro, Myersville, Md., and Waynesboro, Pa., were held twice each day. Parades matching the themes of the day, beginning with one dedicated to history, were directed down an avenue of flags accessing the exposition grounds each day. Fireworks, athletic contests, judging of exhibits, demonstrations by national champions in various sports and additional evening balls continued throughout.

Honored speakers came from around the region, including Francis S.K. Smith, the grandson of Francis Scott Key, and various governors, senators and congressional representatives. This was all to add to two performances daily of the pageant called, "On Wings of Time," with scenes depicting 32 separate historical episodes of life in Washington County. 

In addition to the professional staff from the production company, hundreds of local citizens were recruited for pageant vignettes, with a different cast of principle players for each of the two weeks of the show. All were listed in the program.

According to an article written by Frances Cruger, long-time member of the Washington County Historical Society for the December/January 1998 issue of the Cracker Barrel Magazine, "Every merchant in downtown Hagerstown had his own distinct display in the window featuring the commemoration. Prizes were awarded for the best and most interesting historic display."

Edward Tenney went on to serve as president of the historical society until his death in 1942.  The start of World War II disrupted activities of the organization for a short time, but with the election of Mary Vernon Mish, the first and only woman to ever lead the group, came an era of preservation pursuits unlike anything before or since.

Linda Irvin-Craig is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. The society is inside the Miller House, 135 W. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown. For more information, call 301-797-8782 or go to

Mad Hatters' Ball

Planning goes forward for the 2012 Mad Hatters' Ball, a fundraiser for the Washington County Historical Society, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at the Fountain Head Country Club. Tickets cost $100 each and additional details about this year's celebration are available by calling 301-797-8782 or emailing at The date coincides with the 100th anniversary of the R.M.S. Titanic's collision with the iceberg and period-style headwear is encouraged but not required. Designed as a party, the fundraiser will feature special foods from the Titanic menus will be featured and music for dancing or mingling and listening will be provided.

Besides the food, ice sculptures and an 11-foot hat tree, there will also be a silent auction and the raffle of a restored historic trunk (1850 to 1910). Crystal prisms and some of the Miller House silver collection will provide additional "Titanic-like" opulence for the event.

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