Written by Jim Bartlett on June 29, 2016
Forty years ago this weekend, July 4, 1976, was the celebration of the American Bicentennial. The national blowout for America’s 200th birthday had been brewing for a couple of years. A government commission began planning for it in 1973. The U.S. Mint issued commemorative quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins starting in 1975. But the most amazing thing about it was the way everybody who made anything wanted to capitalize on Bicentennial fever. Bicentennial-themed stuff was on sale in every store, some of it tasteful and some of it not.
On the day itself, which was a Sunday, the TV networks went all out, covering Bicentennial events from coast to coast all day long. President Gerald Ford visited Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and then traveled to New York City for Operation Sail, with hundreds of boats and ships sailing in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Jimmy Carter, the apparent Democratic nominee for president in that fall’s election, was still governor of Georgia, and he spent the day dedicating a small-town post office in his home state.
My family and I went to some sort of all-day picnic/family reunion. I don’t remember anything about it beyond the usual family picnic memories, running around outside with the cousins, eating way too much of everything, and having to go home before everyone else because my father had cows to milk. That night, we went to our usual fireworks-viewing spot in Monroe, on the grounds of what is now the Monroe Senior Center. (It used to be the Green County Normal School, a teacher’s college, where my mother went after high school.) At some point in the 70s, they had planted some trees on the side of the park where we watched the fireworks, and we were reminded every year to be careful of the little trees and not to knock them down.
They’re all 30 feet high now. Forty years will do that.