U.S., county celebrated bicentennials in 1976

April 27, 2013|Linda Irvin-Craig
  • This photograph of the Bicentennial pageant platform, built at the stadium at South Hagerstown High School, was taken for The Daily Mail by Marlo Barnhart and published on Wednesday, June 30, 1976. The original photo caption read, Taking a Break in Texas, Paul M. Horst, a member of the Rediscover America Committee, poses inside this giant cutout of The United States of America  an integral part of the stage at the South High football field. The pageant will begin Friday night at 9:15 and continue through July 5, resuming July 9 and 10.
Herald-Mail file photo

"Rediscover America 1976 Bicentennial Celebration, United States of America-Washington County, Maryland, 1776-1976" was the full name of an event that would involve most of the members of the Washington County Historical Society and the community, as a whole, for most of 1976. An executive committee and large sub-committees were established to manage the events and coordinate with the state and other area venues.

On the executive committee were Robert and Marianne Zeigler and Paul and Ruth Horst, as general co-chairmen; Edward O'Brien, treasurer; Robert Statton, secretary; Robert Hill, assistant secretary; Franklin Miller, headquarters chair; Robert M. Hedges, Rediscover America Shoppe manager; John and Betty Seburn, student activities coordinators; Jim Wilson, decorations; Howard Kaylor, operating capital; Al Twiss, insurance; and Ted and Janice Reeder, revenue division. Charles Lyon, WCHS Board member, was county chairman for the State of Maryland's Bicentennial Commission.

Just prior to the beginning of 1976, the Washington County Tourism Department, with the help of the historical society, published a Bicentennial Trail for the county.  This became a part of a State of Maryland effort to highlight the state's part in the early history of the nation.

A monthly Bicentennial Crier was published by Hagerstown Bookbinding and Printing Co. Inc. to keep the public and all participants apprised of the events and the deadlines for each. A map of historic homes was developed and the year opened with a special bicentennial exhibit at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

In February, Marguerite Doleman offered a lecture at the Washington County Free Library on "Black History of Washington County." Final judging took place on student artwork submitted for the design of a flag for the county. Unfortunately, it would be another 10 years before the flag design was formally adopted.

Even the Miss Hagerstown competition followed a patriotic theme for the 1976 pageant. The opening number was "This is My Country," with the local choral group known as Friends and Spirit on stage with the young contestants. When the curtain opened, a living Statue of Liberty stood top center of the risers' stairs before a background of waving stars and stripes.

As the 15 major projects related to the celebration got underway, an office was set up at 40 Summit Ave. A film was made about the county's historic attractions. Colonial attire was available at the Rediscover America Shoppe for the 200th birthday of the country and the county. Commemorative coins were struck by county and city, the county coin featuring Washington's Monument and Fort Frederick and the city coin featuring Little Heiskel. The chamber of commerce had a hospitality center open on Public Square and initiated a time capsule.

Other projects included a school system competition to design a bicentennial flag; a reproduction of the Liberty Bell, sponsored by Hagerstown Trust Co.; commemorative plates commissioned by the Hagerstown Jayceettes; and local publication of a collection of first person stories written by or recounted by older citizens of the county called " I Remember ...."

Numerous research projects were underway concerning local history of the Colonial period. It had been discovered that while Washington (Frederick) County couldn't dump tea like the folks in Boston Harbor, apparently we confiscated some tea from Franklin (Cumberland) County, Pa., and burned it in an attempt to recognize the issue of the British taxing Americans for the costs of the French and Indian War. Many people refused to buy or drink tea during this period.

The first ever Co-ed Camporee by Mason-Dixon Boy Scout Council and Shawnee Girl Scout Council was held at Fort Frederick at the end of April. The dedication of the newly constructed enlisted men's barracks took place over that weekend. The fort hosted a number of special demonstrations throughout the year, culminating with the Governor's Invitational Firelock Match in late September.

 In June a professional, traveling, interactive production of "We've Come Back for a Little Look Around" was shown at the City Park, featuring the characters of Ben Franklin, John Adams, Abe Lincoln and Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. 

The play was just one week into its grand tour, having started in Washington, D.C.  Children found it particularly fascinating. The premise was seeing and asking if the "American experiment was still working after 200 years?" Franklin was concerned with scientific progress, Adams looking for sustained justice and Lincoln making sure that unity held. Twain focused on whether we had retained our sense of humor.

Belles and Minutemen Clubs were organized around the county to have ready — costumed participants for parades, promenades, caravans, kangaroo courts and other events. A public headquarters was set up at 22 W. Franklin St. in downtown Hagerstown. The Hagerstown Jaycees handled ticket sales for a June 26 ball, $6 youth and senior citizens and all others, $10. The ball consisted of three dances: one for 1776, one for 1876 and one for 1976, all in different areas at the Valley Mall and with bands to play for each.

Also in June, the National Wagon Train, en route to Valley Forge, stopped near Beaver Creek with an encampment. It was Clear Spring's turn to have a community bicentennial week, which included dedication of the new high school. A bicentennial celebration had been held in Pleasant Valley in April. Williamsport in August and Boonsboro in September.  Ft. Ritchie planned a year-long lecture series as their participation.

The Rediscover America Pageant, contracted with the Rogers Co. and running six days at South Hagerstown High School Stadium, called for many community participants. Roles in the pageant were auctioned off on June 1 in the school auditorium to raise money for the event. "Prior acting experience was not required," according to promotional material for the auction.

Nine celebration days were set in Hagerstown, starting Friday, July 2, through 10 : Dedication Day, Homecoming Day, "One Nation Under God" Day, Sports and Recreation Day, Industry, Agriculture and Transportation Day, Horizons for Youth Day, Older Americans Day, Merchant's Hospitality Day and Armed Forces Day. Tours of Brandt Cabinet Works, Mack Trucks, C&P Telephone Co., Moller Organ Works and Pangborn Corp. were offered on industry day.

Bus tours, which left the Alexander Hotel each Sunday at 1, 2 and 3 p.m., traveled through the Hagers-town area to see historic sites. The tours, with guides on board, also went to the Antietam Battlefield, passed familiar scenes of the farmsteads and Dunker Church, all noted in the history of that event, and after a stop there, it went on to Sharpsburg. On the return, it stopped at the Hager House, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and the Mansion House, where the historical society had its Civil War exhibit at the time.

Washington County's own mammoth, two-hour parade was held on Sept. 6 in honor of the founding date of the county 200 years before. Eddie Dean, star of a number of western films of the World War II era, was the grand marshal. The real star of the day was Susan Ford, 19-year-old daughter of President Gerald Ford, who arrived from Washington, D.C., to be part of the official reviewing stand. She was dubbed "Belle of the Washington County Parade" and rode through the streets in a 19th-century horse-drawn carriage. Many national, state and local politicians were on hand for the event, but no speeches were allowed.

The parade of more than 100 units wound its way from the Hagerstown Fairgrounds, through Hagerstown, and back to the fairgrounds to an exposition of county history, culture and business. The evening ended with a Zambelli fireworks display at "moonrise." This was a project of the Hagerstown Exchange Club, coordinated with all of the communities in the county.

The American Freedom Train stopped at Hagerstown City Park in September and carried 500 artifacts of American memorabilia on 10 cars that offered visitors a walking tour. Items included George Washington's personal copy of the U.S. Constitution, Martin Luther King's Bible, Will Rogers's lariat, Johnny Weismuller's Olympic medals, Jack Benny's violin and Judy Garland's "Wizard of Oz" dress.

In the midst of all of this activity, the Washington County Historical Society was still managing programs at four facilities: the Miller House, the Hager House, the Valley Store Museum at the Mansion House and Beaver Creek School, in addition to having the library open for patrons. They decided to inform those who needed to know that they could not take on the Bester House, as well. 

The Bester House was another site in Hagers-town in line for historic preservation, with proposed activities relative to its age. Illness, age and volunteer burn out were already affecting the ability to keep all of the areas open. The society coordinator and the curator at the Hager House were both hospitalized toward the end of this period. 1976 had been busy, nonstop.

With the 275th anniversary of the building of the Hager House occurring in 2014, the City of Hagerstown will need a committee of volunteers soon to begin planning of an event to celebrate this important occasion. Interested parties could self-identify to any member of senior staff, the mayor of Hagerstown and council or Community Affairs Manager Karen Giffin, 301-739-8577, ext. 116.

Linda Irvin-Craig is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. For more information, call 301-797-8782 or go to

The Herald-Mail Articles