State Starts Collection of Bicentennial Memorabilia

Bicentennial News features reports about the American Revolution Bicentennial in Pennsylvania, including programs, events and publications of PHMC, as well as projects and activities of the Bicentennial Commission of Pennsylvania, county historical societies and other institutions.

The Bicentennial celebration isn’t over yet. Nevertheless, collections of Bicentennial memorabilia are already being assembled in an effort to ensure that reminders of the observance are preserved for future generations.

“It’s easy to overlook the fact that the Bicentennial celebration in itself is an historic event and that much of what is being done for the Bicentennial is in the form of important research into 200 years of American history.” noted George H. Ebner, executive director of the Bicen­tennial Commission of Pennsylvania. “By setting aside significant items as they become available, we are helping to guarantee that irreplaceable materials are not lost.

“It’s surprising how little remains from the nation’s Centennial celebration,” he added. “In many instances it just never occurred to the people involved that succeeding generations would be interested. It is our hope to preserve those reminders of the Bicentennial that will be meaningful during the years ahead.”

Selected items chosen for the state collection are currently on display at the William Penn Memorial Museum in Harrisburg. The exhibit includes samples of materials prepared for Bicentennial events that have already taken place, examples of Commission-approved commemorative pieces, important documents, awards, books, and other Bicenten­nial-related materials.

Determining what should be preserved is part of the challenge in providing documentation of the Bicentennial celebration, noted Ebner.

“So much has been produced for the Bicentennial celebration that it would be impossible to save examples of everything,” he commented. “We are trying to be extremely selective in deciding what to retain. In choosing materials for forwarding to the state museum, we are focusing on both the spirit and the substance of the Bicentennial. We are including, for instance, important documents along with memorabilia from events com­memorating the 200th anniversaries of various significant dates in an effort to show how we celebrated the Bicentennial. We are also including films, tapes, and publica­tions that produce fresh insights into 200 years of life in America to demonstrate some of the more reflective ele­ments of the observance. In turn, we are not saving many souvenir-type items that will probably never be of any real interest to the historian nor to the serious collector.”

Among items on display at the museum are the original signed copies of the four resolutions passed at the September 1974 Reconvening of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia; a copy of the reprinted Journal of the Proceedings of Congress, 1774; reproductions of the official Pennsylvania Bicentennial symbol carrying the theme, “So Your Children Can Tell Their Children”; the original and only copy of the Commission’s basic plan for a statewide Bicentennial observance authored by George Ebner; various commemorative medallions including the official Pennsylvania Bicentennial medal; and a sculpture symbolizing the historic cross-country trek of the Bicentennial Wagon Train Pilgrimage to Pennsylvania. In all, more than fifty items have been forwarded to the state museum.

“The materials now at the museum represent a beginning,” said Ebner. “Some of the items date back to the creation of the Bicentennial Commission of Pennsylvania in 1968. Other pieces relate to events that have taken place within the last few weeks. We will continue to make additions as various things become available and as events are held.
“One of the items we are most looking forward to is the final edited version of a 90-minute documentary film showing how Pennsylvanians in every corner of the Com­monwealth celebrated 200 years of American Independence,” he added. “The film will be shown throughout the state, and we hope the nation, as soon as it is released and then it will become part of Pennsylvania’s permanent record of the Bicentennial.”

What will become of the film and the various other items that are being collected?

“Many things will go on display immediately as is the case with the material currently at the William Penn Memorial Museum,” said Ebner. “After the Bicentennial celebration has concluded it will be retained by the Common­wealth for future reference and display use. The materials should provide a fascinating record of Pennsylvania’s Bicen­tennial celebration. In the not-too-distant future I’m sure that many of us who were involved in the Bicentennial observance, and that includes almost every Pennsylvanian, will want to look back and reflect on it all with the kind of objectivity that only comes with the passing of time. Succeeding generations will find the materials to be of historic interest in much the same way that we are captivated by things that now remind us of America as our forefathers know it.”