The Spirit of ’76: Remembering the Bicentennial (& Before)

The Bicentennial Logo commissioned by the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, 1975-1976. (Public Domain image)

The Bicentennial Logo. (Image: Public Domain)

Even as a five year old, the significance was not lost on me. The year was 1976, and I was keenly aware that I was living in a time of special celebration that not everyone would personally experience: the American Revolution Bicentennial.

Plans for the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence began well before July 4th, 1976. In fact, Congress created the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission (ARBC) on July 4, 1966, to prepare for the big day. Initially, the idea was to have a single celebration in either Philadelphia, PA or Boston, MA; however, in 1973, the ARBC was dissolved and Congress created the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration (ARBA), which was formed to promote  and encourage the sponsorship of local events as opposed to one single-day, single-locale extravaganza. Bicentennial festivities officially began when The American Freedom Train left the station in Wilmington, DE, on April 1, 1975, for a 48-state tour that would last 21 months.

To further commemorate the Bicentennial, the U.S Treasury Department minted three special coins from 1975-1976.  Products of a nationwide design competition, these coins included the Bicentennial quarter, half dollar, and silver dollar.

As a youngster, Bicentennial coins were fun to collect.  I still come across some—mostly quarters—in circulation today.  I regard them with a patriotic reverence that compels me to keep them even still.  The mere sight of a Bicentennial coin takes me back to small town America and the most deliciously memorable moments for a five year old: our family’s frequent trips to the High’s Dairy Store at the edge of town where hand-dipped, red-white-and-blue-swirled ice cream was served up all summer long as a reminder of our nation’s hard-fought independence.

Long live the Stars and Stripes.  Long live the Spirit of ’76.

Riches and Honor: The Putting On of Peonies

With his penknife, Dad cut the top off the empty, plastic milk carton.  He then arranged rocks in the bottom before filling the carton with water from the outdoor spigot.  A man of few words, he walked over to the row of pink and white peonies that lined the turn-around of our long, gravel driveway.  With the use of his trusty penknife, he snipped an equal number of pink and white fragrant stalks from the blossom-laden bushes. Mom arranged them in the milk jug.


Dad, Mom, my two sisters, and I then piled into our old, Chevy pickup truck.  It was a snug fit as we drove down Route 67 to the cemetery in Pleasant Valley, Maryland; but more than this, it was a Memorial Day tradition, this putting of peonies on my grandmother’s grave. We did it every year from the time that I was little until the time that I left home.

I never knew my Grandma Sullivan, but her reputation was as large as life.  She loved people–even (especially) the less than lovely ones.  She was strong in spirit, despite a long-term lung disease that slowly killed her, and she was persistent in her mission to tell (and to show) her community about God–the Creator, Sustainer, and Savior of the world.  Well into my twenties, I would encounter people who said their lives has been forever changed by her charity.  Now her soul is in heaven and her bones are at rest for a time in the grave. During my growing-up years, we preserved her memory with peonies, which are traditionally symbols of riches and honor.

This past week on Twitter, the Eisenhower Library tweeted about a 1955 Memorial Day initiative by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in which he urged the nation to “slow down and live.”  It reminded me of two 1961 photographs that bear my Grandmother’s handwriting.  The photos are of Eisenhower, whom Grandma Sullivan refers to as “General Ike.” The pictures were taken by my grandparents when General Eisenhower visited Hagerstown, Maryland, on September 3, 1961. Eisenhower, who had completed his two-term presidency earlier that year, was in town to speak at the rededication of the Washington Confederate Cemetery, (which is a graveyard for soldiers killed during the Maryland campaigns of the Civil War).  Eisenhower had traveled to Hagerstown from his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, less than an hour away. Also at the rededication was General U.S. Grant III, grandson of Civil War Union General (and 18th President of the United States) Ulysses S. Grant.

I hope that you enjoy these snapshots from America’s past, and I wish you a safe and happy Memorial Day.


General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the peace sign during his visit to Hagerstown, Maryland, on September 3, 1961, for the rededication of the Washington Confederate Cemetery.


General Dwight D. Eisenhower smiles for my grandparents’ camera during his visit to Hagerstown, Maryland, for the rededication of the Washington Confederate Cemetery on September 3, 1961. Seated to the far left of Eisenhower is U.S. House of Representatives, (6th Congressional District of Maryland), Charles “Mac” Mathias, Jr; and beside General Eisenhower is J. Millard Tawes, Governor of Maryland from 1959-1967.


Sunday Special: Honoring Those Who Served

Someone once said that “freedom is never free.” On this Veterans Day, I’d like to thank all the military men and women who have served our country. (Thanks, also, to those who are currently serving in our armed forces.)

Special recognition goes out to my father, who served in the U.S. Army in the mid-to-late 1960s. During that time, he worked in telecommunications at military posts both in Germany and stateside. He went on to use those skills (and then some) for another forty-plus years at AT&T. Thank you for your service, Dad!

Specialist William Sommerville (left) with my Dad (Pvt. Tom Sullivan), 16th Signal Detachment, 17th Artillery Group ARADCOM. (1965 or 1966)