Flags were fluttering. Patriotic music played. Historical references were abundant.
Stark County’s 1976 U.S. Bicentennial celebration included activities ranging from formal ceremonies to fireworks, but Tom Haas, then young head of the Canton’s American Revolutionary Bicentennial Commission, remembers a simple memory that seems to symbolize the celebration.
“The city of Canton has decided that the bicentennial offices should be located in the south building of Central Plaza on Market Avenue S,” said Haas, a graduate of Glenwood High School and a graduate in Ohio history. State University. “A secretary, Cathy Burnham, and I shared an office with the Canton Town Center Commission.”
After:The following Monday: Souvenir from the Canton Terrier baseball era
Haas said the Canton Arts Institute (now Canton Museum of Art) and the Stark County Historical Society (operating as the Wm. McKinley Presidential Library & Museum) have installed historic artwork in the building which provided a context to the work of the Commission.
“We had all kinds of visitors throughout 1975-76,” Haas recalls. “One visitor I remember was an elderly man who always wore a heavy overcoat even in hot summers. He was probably a veteran as he always stood quietly at attention in front of the building outside and waved our flag for a few minutes most every day. “
Remembering the Canton Bicentennial Commission of the American Revolution
Gervis Brady, then director of the Stark County Historic Center and former director of the Canton 150th Anniversary Commission, was co-chair of the 30-member effort of the Canton Bicentennial Commission in 1976 with Gerry Bixler, director of the Canton Bicentennial Commission. Canton planning. Officially, Brady was chairman of the commission and Bixler was vice-chairman.
“I was the only paid staff member,” said Haas, who was 25 when Brady hired him in 1975, getting a full employment training law grant to pay for his then manager’s salary. that he worked, technically, for the historic center. “This CETA job that I had as a bicentennial director was the epitome of what this law was passed for: on-the-job training.”
Haas recalled that “Brady’s experience as Canton’s 150th anniversary president from 1955 was invaluable.” And, the Bicentennial Commission was made up of people from a variety of backgrounds, including the media, experts in history and the arts, religious leaders, business and industry leaders, union representatives, heads of institutions. financials, lawyers and government officials.
The Bicentennial Commission brochure lists the “All-American Concert in the Park” at the McKinley National Memorial for Friday, July 2, 1976, the “Festival ’76” at Monument Park for Saturday, July 3, and the “Bicentennial Religious Service” at Canton Memorial Auditorium on Sunday July 4.
The brochure listed events for the Professional Football Hall of Fame dedication festival July 23-24 as part of the Bicentennial Commission calendar. And, the International / Ethnic Bicentennial Festival was scheduled for September 18-19.
“Of all the Canton Bicentennial Commission events I have attended, this (latest) event has been the most satisfying and my favorite,” said Haas, who noted that the “International Festival” had intentionally been continued over the years.
“At the beginning of 1975, I was approached by many representatives of different ethnic groups to support an international festival in Canton. Toledo, Ohio, sponsored an international festival each year and ethnic groups wanted to use this bicentennial year to kick off that tradition in Canton. . “
How the Canton concert in the park began
The Patriotic Concert in the Park was also born during the bicentenary.
“It was a beautiful night and I greeted the large crowd who gathered in the square at the foot of the McKinley monument,” he recalls. “I introduced Robert Marcellus, the conductor of the Canton Symphony Orchestra, and then I watched the performances of patriotic music. The Canton Civic Opera also performed.”
Haas’ memories of “Festival ’76” are colorful.
“I remember all the great activities and vendors lined up along the boulevards of the McKinley monument including arts and crafts, ethnic foods, pioneer artisans, music, bands, a dramatic performance titled ‘Cursed be it, Jack Dalton, “(and) children’s games … really something for everyone,” he said.
Thousands of people were waiting for a fireworks display which “exploded over the McKinley monument at dusk”.
“It was a one of a kind show.” he said.
The bicentennial church service praised “God and the Fatherland” in a ceremony where religion and patriotism were combined, reported The Canton Repository.
“There have always been spiritual people in this nation to give us moral substance,” Reverend George E. Parkinson of Christ United Presbyterian Church said that day.
Other communities in Stark County held festivities on July 4, events the newspaper said showed “patriotic exuberance.”
Lake Cable organized a parade of boats. Alliance hosted a community picnic. Navarre organized the “Old Landmark Days”. Minerva closed the “USA Festival” with concerts. North Cantonese “heard the last of the Chautauqua Tent Show festival as fireworks erupted over the city.”
Extended celebration after the holidays
The grand Hall of Fame festival parade served as Canton’s official bicentennial parade in 1976, Haas noted, a procession featuring “a colorful array of historically designed floats.” But, the International Festival, starting with a parade on the Saturday morning of the event, extended the bicentennial celebration into September with “pageantry and pride”.
“I think we ended up with about 30 different ethnic groups participating in our festival,” said Haas, who noted that John Serbian Jr. was the president of the ethnic festival. “The event included booths with displays of culture, food and people dressed in their colorful costumes. In the evenings, each group performed on stage with beautiful dances and songs by choreographed indigenous groups.”
Local groups have added events and activities beyond the Commission’s calendar.
Canton Churches organized a bus tour of historic downtown churches. Timken Co. donated a replica of the Statue of Liberty to the Canton Art Institute. Stark County Historic Center asked children to donate coins for the renovations to the McKinley National Memorial, recalling how the children donated pennies for the construction of the McKinley Monument after the President was assassinated William McKinley in 1901.
“I remember giving programs to many service organizations, church groups, nursing homes, and (and) educational groups,” Haas said. “At the end of my speech, I would show each group a 15-minute 1907 silent film about President Teddy Roosevelt coming to Canton to dedicate the newly constructed McKinley monument.”
The Cantonal Bicentennial Commission was dissolved in the fall of 1976.
Haas became director of education at the Stark County Historical Center. Two years later, he left the museum for an advertising sales position on WHBC radio, ending a 34-year career at the station with his retirement in 2010.
“In retirement I needed to keep busy, so in 2016 I returned to the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum as a volunteer, researching the library. “
Rightly, 2016 was the 40th anniversary of his work with the bicentennial. And Haas continues its historic work in the museum’s Ramsayer Research Library as the nation celebrates its 245th birthday.
“I was finally able to use my history degree.
Contact Gary at [email protected]
On Twitter: @gbrownREP