President Salutes Wagon Trains

News presents briefs about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

The only national Bicentennial program involving all fifty states and some 60,000 persons reached a dramatic climax July 3 [1976] when 225 horse-drawn covered wagons rumbled slowly into Valley Forge Park, their final encamp­ment.

President Gerald R. Ford visited the encampment on July 4 [1976] to salute those who made the historic pilgrimage.

Five trains of conestoga wagons and prairie schooners, each arriving from a different section of the country along historic trails, filed past a reviewing stand.

Some 250,000 visitors shared the celebration with the wagon train people. Highlighting activities was a perfor­mance of the Wagon Train Show, a 45-minute musical, produced by The Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Theatre Arts.

At the day’s end, a fireworks display plus the playing of the national anthem at midnight heralded in the official beginning of American’s third century.

On the Fourth, President Ford urged a crowd of about 75,000 to emulate the spirit of sacrifice that sustained the pioneers. The President also signed a bill authorizing the federal government to accept Valley Forge Park for pres­ervation as a national historic park.

The pilgrimage was a replay of history in reverse. It covered some 17,000 miles in thirteen months. The trains of covered wagons crossed the country from West to East, adhering as closely as possible to original pioneer trails and wagon routes.

Along the way, some 22 million Americans signed Scrolls of Rededication, thus symbolically joining the pilgrimage. The Bicentennial Commission of Pennsylvania conceived the scrolls as a means for people in every state to participate in the historic pilgrimage. In October, the signed scrolls will be permanently enshrined at the park.

The five national trains quickly became happenings as they wended their way East. Parades, speeches and all kinds of special celebrations greeted the wagons in thou­sands of towns and cities across America. Each night, the encampments were the focus of campfire sing-alongs and, other people-to-people activities. Those nightly events along the trail lined every state in a year-long series of celebrations.

The wagons themselves were a center of attraction for millions of Valley Forge Park visitors during the rest of the summer. A multi-media presentation highlighting the events of the 48-state pilgrimage were shown daily at the Valley Forge encampment.

Each of the fifty states and each of Pennsylvania’s sixty-seven counties were slated for a full day’s Bicenten­nial activities at the encampment during the summer. Special exhibits and performances documented and highlighted each state or county’s attractions, history or products.