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History Lives Here Text

Celebratingthe Bicentennial of the U. S.

The hoopla for the Bicentennial of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence started morethan a year before the actual event. A local Bicentennial Committee wasappointed and members from each village and the township and severalorganizations became members. I'm not sure how I came to be on it, but for somereason, I missed the first few meetings.


By the time I got to the meetings, under the chairmanship of Ben Wroebel, they had decided that the major Bicentennialproject would be a bandstand in the riverside park on Water Street in Saugatuck. The park hadbeen purchased more than 20 years earlier with the generous assistance of FrankWicks, former owner of the Maplewood Hotel, and village president and councilmember. It had been leased to help pay off its indebtedness and now the leasewas expiring and the city wanted to begin to make it into a real public parkdedicated to Mr. Wicks, partly to avoid having the riverfront space turned intoa place where boats could be docked, thus limiting public access to the water.Local artist Nat Steinberg, a former editorial artist for Chicago's America haddesigned an early American octagonal bandstand and the project was on track.


We applied for Bicentennial funds from the local municipalities andthey responded. We then applied for a Bicentennial Grant for the band stand.I'm not sure how it happened, but at the last minute the grant application wasgiven to me to fill out. It was long and detailed and gave me a chance to listall of the other funds that had been offered by various organizations.


I remember only one question. "Who would benefit from thisproject?" And I could not resist answering something like, "All whowant to watch boats float down the river or stroll by the waterfront and feedthe ducks." When the announcement came down, Saugatuck-Douglas hadreceived one of the biggest grants bestowed by the Michigan Bicentennial Committee. They wereespecially taken with the cooperation between our municipalities.


Another bicentennial project, which I gather was fairly commonespecially in towns the size of ours, was to give the fire hydrants a new coatof paint with designs honoring the occasion. The high school classes did themajor part of the painting I believe and the town was full of hydrants thatlooked like little Indians, or Revolutionary soldiers, with a few star spangledones thrown in for good measure. The grade school also painted one of theschool's main hallways with a mammoth bicentennial mural.


The larger bicentennial committee was divided into groups with morenarrowly defined tasks and I ended up on the education committee, with DebbieHoffman, and Kathy Herrick and Marty McIntyre from the elementary school, andMarcia Hosley from the high school. We decided topresent a good old-fashioned county fair-style competition in handicrafts,cooking, art and music, with a special division for local historical projects.


To drum up enthusiasm I was to go around to the schools and presentfour shows of the various items that might be entered. I did the two elementaryschool shows and dressed up two of the students in Indian costume. I alsopresented basic examples (most of them borrowed from my own children) of itemsthat might make good entries. They seemed to take to it quite eagerly.


The shows at the high school were a little more complicated. I hadbrought 20 or so examples of things that might be entered in the county faircompetition and each was left backstage with a number on it. When I got to thatpoint in the narrative I would call out a number and Peggy Sanford, who wasbehind the curtain would send the student out with that numbered item. Therewere some craft items, a patchwork dress, a bottle of pickles, a loaf of bread,and a big chocolate cake with one slice out of it. It was in the script that Iwould ask the student, "Who ate a piece of the cake?" and he wassupposed to respond, "Must have been the judge."


I noticed when the junior high student brought the cake out that themissing piece seemed larger than before, and suspected that students backstagehad been doing some nibbling.


When the high school students came in I asked principalJohn Kuenzli who he thought might be good to helpwith the production, and he suggested Doug Forrester among others.


As the luck of the draw would have it, big hulkingDoug way the one in line when it became time for the patchwork dress.Fortunately the dress had plenty of elastic, but his appearance in it broughtdown the house. There were more surprises in store. The number of pickles inthe jar had diminished, the bread was a mere crust, and when the chocolate cakearrived, it seems to me that this item also fell to Doug, it was reduced to amere triangle on the plate. When I asked "Who ate apiece of the cake?" Doug did an exaggerated double take andresponded in his deep bass voice, "Must have beenthe judge." He then strode off the stage polishing off the crumbs as hewalked.


TheBicentennial pageant was my main part of the events. I wrote up a series oftrue, but sort of funny, vignettes of Saugatuck-Douglas history and put out acall at the school for students willing to help with it. My son, Eric, was on aScout Indian dance team and I also contracted with them to present their Indiandances as part of the show.


The day of the first rehearsal through announcements and Eric's activerecruiting we had managed to secure a small cast including Eric, Alan Gillis(son of the local scoutmaster), Darrin Higgins, Jackie Carey and Mary BethKimball and maybe a few others. May Francis Heath had written a syrupy songabout Saugatuck for the Saugatuck Centennial in 1930 and I got the music andtried to teach it to the grade school chorus, with the promise to their musicteacher that they could sing other folk songs as well. They were also handywhenever we needed more people on stage.


The firstscene was of the Indians roasting a white dog (a stuffed animal from the toychest) while the Butler's land at the mouth ofthe Kalamazoocarrying the china soup tureen they are said to have brought with them. TheIndians seem puzzled by the soup tureen. There was a scene of the founding ofDouglas where Mr. butcher plats a village named Douglas, and Mr. Wade creates a village called Dudleyville and the people faced each other over Center Street (thepeople were the chorus which did a wonderful job with little rehearsal.) Inrehearsal Darrin Higgins had shown a remarkable talent for falling over and notbreaking his fall until just before he hit the floor. So we worked it into ascene with the early Dutch settlers learning to chop down trees from theIndians. The Indian chopped all around the tree until it was standing on apoint, and then pushed it the way he wanted it to go. The Indian (Eric) pushedthe tree and it obligingly toppled

forward {the only way Darrin could fall}. When the Dutch settler tried it thetree began to careen around in circles until the chopper, his companions, andeventually the rest of the trees in the forest (the kids from the chorus again)ran off the stage in terror. Then there was a scene in the Big Pavilion todemonstrate how old Deac Weed would make the dancefloor more profitable by shortening the length of time the orchestra would playfor each dance. I think that here the chorus played the part of the orchestra.There were other scenes and it was campy enough to be fun.


Since the only overhead we had was the Indian dance troop which triedto get $20 a performance we charged only a dime admission. After the show Ijust dumped all the dimes in a paper bag and handed it to them.


The county fair exhibition drew a fair number of entries, even in theadult divisions, and we filled the high school gym May, 6th, 7th and 8th.Members of the committee and a couple of extras, I remember Marty Carey who wasthen running an art gallery and maybe a few others, did the judging handing outribbons with a lavish hand, and creating new categories when it looked likesomebody was going to miss out. Best of show went to the Erlandsonfamily who had created a diorama of old Singapore from an old plum crate.


On Saturday, May 8th we held a field day at the high school stadiumwith every kind of field event we could think of including running races andwheelbarrow races, with and without real wheelbarrows. Also a pie eatingcontest at which no hands were allowed. Pies were furnished by the local piefactory as usual, mostly blueberry so the mess could be seen way up in thestands. I remember being in the adult women's arm wrestling finals, but losingout to Fran Manifold.


The bandstand was still not done on the 4th of July but we dedicated itanyway with a speech by Ed Hutchinson of Fennville, a longtime U. S.Representative. There was also a presentation of all of the MissSaugatuck-Douglas, and Mrs. Saugatucks we could find.


The most exciting event of the real birthday was the firing of the oldcannon in the Village Square.From historical notes it seems that the cannon was fired at all bigcelebrations like the Battle of Santiago, the end of World War I, the end ofWorld War II, etc., and had been fired at the. Centennial ofthe nation in 1876. Salt Bryan of the Saugatuck Village Department ofPublic Works who had previously had some experience with muzzle loading guns,was put in charge. He cleaned out the old cannon and experimented withthe amount of powder.


Someone on the national level had decided that the official birthday wouldbe at 2 p.m. At that magic hour all of the church bells and any other kind ofbells that anyone could lay their hands on around town, began to peal and Saltapproached the little cannon and stuffed in a charge of powder holding it inplace with paper wadding. He lit it though the hole at the rear and the cannonwent off with a big bang blowing shredded paper out the muzzle and liftingitself, wheels and all, eight inches in the air. He filled it with powder foranother shot, to celebrate the second century he said, and this time let hisyoung son Frankie light the powder. This time it jumped even higher. Then thecannon was cleaned out to wait for the Tricentennial.


Afireworks display, designed to celebrate two hundred years was held that night.


--by Kit Lane