Forty years ago tomorrow was the 199th anniversary of American independence and, for me at least, it was the start of the Bicentennial year. Still in grade school at the time, my history studies focused on the American Revolution and, because of the timing, it meant it was all a big deal. But, growing up in Philadelphia also brought the Bicentennial to life. Therefore, it was a really big deal! Well, at least it was supposed to be.
For the 1975-76 school year, we learned in history about everything from the Boston Tea Party and Liberty Bell to that oppressive summer in 1776 when John Hancock and the other members of the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence.
Of course, having Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell within a half-hour bicycle ride, practically brought the Bicentennial to our doorstep. Back then, when it was in Independence Hall, I was even able to touch the Liberty Bell. But now, the Bell is in its own pavilion and is roped off from anyone getting near it.
As “The Bicentennial City,” Philadelphia had grand plans that year. It was scheduled to host the World’s Fair, just like they had for the Centennial, back in 1876. With budget cuts and, I suppose, other problems raising the funds, the World’s Fair extravaganza was cancelled that year. Even plans for a compact version fell through, leaving the city with a large Bicentennial public relations campaign, but little substance. As I remember it, basically there were lots of Bicentennial flags and banners complimenting an array of small events throughout the year with a huge fireworks finale on July 4th (of 1976).
Today, the Bicentennial is relegated to history, but at the time, signs of it were everywhere from post offices to street signs and we were at ground zero in Philadelphia, no matter what Bostonians may have claimed.
Frankly, it is hard to believe we are approaching the 240th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and just a little more than a decade until we hit the landmark of 250 years since 1776.
So, however you are planning to celebrate tomorrows 239th, have a wonderful holiday!