Faded as the bunting that once adorned much of the concrete and marble across the country the bicentennial ended yesterday, its legacies as disparate and as localized as the celebration itself.
The months marched officially by to the tune of fife and drum, as each day was marked somewhere, in some fashion, by ceremony and observation. The celebration shaped itself from as many cultural cross-currents as there were people to fill them, and they filled them in ways that represented all the country's sense and lack of it.
The tall ships sailed into New York harbor on July 4, their sails filled not by the wind that was missing that day, but by all the romance and beauty they represented. Small towns that were marked only by prairi grass when the Declaration of Independance was signed brought out the bands, the flags, the boy scouts, the beauty queens and all the heartfelt sentiment John Adams could have wished for.
Wagon trains, freedom trains and armadas of bionic bicyclists crossed the country. Suburbanites stuffed muskets with buckshot and themselves into ancient uniforms and re-enacted battles, some more apocryphal than historical. Learned symposia on the meaning of it all vied with rattlesnake roundups for the people's attention. And the nation's capital surprised itself by bringing a million people together at the Washington Monument and getting most of them - eventually - home again and not to jail.
It will take time and the theorists, of course, to see what the Bicentennial has truly bequeathed the nation, beyond a particulary significant warm summer night July 4. Before its meaning becomes clear however, there are the memories and a variety of menuments to its success.
Some of the testimonies to the 200th year were as ephemeral as the fireworks that lit the skies. Like the man who pushed a watermelon on a lawnmover 800 miles to Philadelphia. Or the red, white and blue flotsam of all shapes and sizes that still sits forlornly on the shelves of souvenir shops.
But there were other, more tangible counterpoints to the festival. According to officials at the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, 12,566 communities across the country particiapted in the Bicentennial Communities program, in which, said the officials, a community had to come up with a project which would "last into the third century" to participate. A project like the old train station in Centennial, Wyoming, that was converted into a museum for mining instruments by the less than 100 people who live there and topped off the whole affair with a buffalo roast.
Director of the Office of Bicentennial Programs Knighton Stanley described the Bicentennial in Washington as "a good year, we accomplished what we set to do, once we scaled down our plans from those of the Nixon and Johnson administrations."
The grandlose dreams of a new and glossy Washington, said Stanley, "didn't take place - the renovation of uptown neighborhoods, the renewal of Pennsylvania Avenue, it didn't happen and of course I'm very disappointed, because I love this city."
Instead, said Stanley, "it was an intangible kind of thing, a lifting up of the diversity and ethnicity of the Washington area." A large part of his job, Stanley said, was justifying the Bicentennial "to a city whose residents are largely black." In the beginning, he said "there were a lot of reservations - with justification - that the flag waving and the hoopla were just for the tourists, and there were questions concerning what to we have to celebrate." But in the end, said Stanley, they couldn't have been more involved."
Among the nearly 400 officially recognized Bicentennial projects in the city that rangef from rock to Bach concerts, educational projects, oral histories and exhibitions of all kinds, the most important, said Stabley, were the 50 curb projects, where neighborhoods got together to clean streets, plant a "mini-park" in an abandoned lot, or clean an alley.
Most important, however, said Stanley, was the peaceful nature of the July 4 celebration. "We had been very embarrassed nationally by what had happened on Human Kindness day" (when violence marred a city celebration), he said. "Now we've redeemed our image."
There is one testament to the Bicentennial that does not send Stabley into an orbit of accolades, however. "I have mixed emotions about the fire hydrants" (a number of which were painted into short, squat, and by now peeling representations patriotic and popular heroes.) In terms of developing tone in the neighborhoods, it wasn't the greatest idea in the world."
The Bicentennial brought a change to Washington's architectural landscape as well, with the addition of the phenomenally popular Air and Space Museum (5,519,065 vistors so far), the controversial National Visitors' Center (839,759 visitors including train passengers and not including the critics), Constitution Gardens, a $3.5 million renovation of the Mall; elevators for the handicapped in the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, and roller skating and ice skating rinks in Anacostia's Fort Dupont park. "It's terrific," said George Berklacy of National Capital Parks. "The candles are out, but the cake's still here."
In addition, two of the Smithsonian's special Bicentennial exhibits, the one-acre sized "A Nation of Nations" exhibit in the Museum of History and Technology, and "1876: A Centennial Exhibition" at the Arts and Industries building, will remain a part of the museums- exhibitions for several years.
One hundred and one foreign countries book part in the Bicentennial as well, according to ARBA officials. "We tried to discourage gifts per se," said Herb Hetu, assistant administrator at ARBA. "If every one gave a statue, where would you put them all? Even if we had a statuary garden, which country would get the best spot?"
Even so, there was a bell from Great Britain, bonsai trees from Japan, an elephant from Sri Lanka, a sound and light show at Mt. Vernon from France, and a plethora of exhibits - silverwork from Argentina, Persian locks from Iran, toys from Switzerland, sculpture from Yugoslavia, and Roman and Byzantine artifacts from Tunisia.
Thiryt-four nations also took part in the Festival of America Folklife, which was sattended by about 4 million people in its 12-week stay on the Mall. The festival will return next year for a two-week stay, after an outpouring of public enthusiam for the period helped to prevent its cancellation.
What there wasn't this Bicentennial year, was touris - at least not in the numbers expected. Before the beginning of the Bicentennial, 40 visit the capitla; 16.8 million actually showed up, according to Park Service officials.
The occupancy rate in the city's hotels was about 68 per cent, according to Leonard Hickman, excutive director of the Hotel Association of Washington. "Once December's figures are in, we'll be lucky to meet last year's occupancy rate," Hickman said. "The publicity just frightened people away. It was not a back breaking year, but terribly disappointing."
Hope, however, springs eternal. With the new attractions in Washington, and the good publicity from the July 4th celebration, Hickman is optimistic. "God knows I don't want to craate a new trend by saying that '77 is going to be crowded because '76 wasn't," he said, "but odd years are always better for some reason."
Colonial Williamsburg faced a similar setback, suffering a $2 million loss in preparing for antipated crowds that never materialized.
The Bicentennial news was better for the Kennedy Center which experienced a 154 per cent increase in tourists, commissioned six plays, buried a time capsule, and serenaded the city with a constant stream of patriotic music.