Those who worked through the glory days at the Foggy Bottom offices always felt they were "different" from other federal employees.
But as 1976 slips into history, the remnants of the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration army face, with wistful sighs, the prospect of finding ordinary jobs like everybody else.
"This is one federal agency that is going out of business on time," said staff member Dan McKenzie. "As a taxpayer, that makes me happy. But as someone who's looking for work, it makes me sad."
The agency has announced that it will return almost $1 million to the U. S. Treassury when it goes out of business on June 30, 1977, and that it will donate fundsome sort of "new Washington monument" dedicated to the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
This swansong largesse is possible, the agency reports, because of over $22 million it raised on commemorative coins and official memeno sales program. The $1 million donation will come from that. The agency says it also has spent just under $52 million in congressional appropriations since 1969.
ARBA was set up by Congress to coordinate Bicentennial activites nationwide. The nationwide staff of 230 has been cut gradually to 65 and is now down to authenticating and recording the legacy of time capsules, re-furbished post offices, parks, museums, scholarships and other official projects strung out in cities and hamlets.
For the staffers, a period of read-adjustment is at hand. Former ARBA Administrator John Warner dealt with it by marrying actress Elizabeth Taylor; others will do more conventional things.
"I'll be career-hunting," said Cherrie Hall, who got in on the Bicentennial 6 1/2 years ago as a volunteer - "the first volunteer!" - and later as a paid employee.
"But I think it's very difficult for any of us to find something to measure up to this experience," she said. In her job as program manager, she had worked with national organizations, providing guidance on their Bicentennial projects.
ARBA employees tend to use phrases such as "once in a lifetime," "sense of history" and "spirit of the American people" when they try to describe their work there.
They acknowledge that the year-long national birthday party had had its detractors, and there were a few puddles of apathy. But, "Out there, it was great," as Cherrie Hall put it. "If there was anything depressing about the Bicentennial, it was to come back here. Washington was blase."
"Out there," across the rest of the country, some 12,566 communities put on 65,000 programs, projects and events, according to the agency's count.
The walls and cabinets of the office still are plastered with Bicentennial symbols, posters gewgaws and gimcracks, shadow of the tall ships and silent splashes of fireworks. but the remaining desks look lost in open expanses of floor. The Bureau of Mines has already rented some of the vacated ARBA space in Columbia Plaza.
In one office, Nicholas Ruggieri, editor of the Bicentennial Times, was putting his last edition to bed. A former Foreign Service officer, he had come to ARBA from a quite different historical atmosphere - working with the Vietnamese Ministry of Information. He plans to retire.
Down the hall, staff photographer Fred Figall was sifting through some of the almost 20,000 Bicentennial photos he had taken of statues, flags, parades, "re-enactments" and "Grip-and-grins" (handshakes).
Figall has a wife and two children, lives in WHite Oak, Md., and has found a new job, starting Jan. 3, in the Navy Surface Weapons Center. "Frankly, it's been a fun job," he said. "Like everyone else, I'm sorry to go, sorry to see it end."
Another office, Jerry Coll was at work recording a folder full of information about 150 "serious" (as opposed to "frivolous") times capsules in various communities, particularly in California and Illinois. "California and Illinois were both on time capsules," he said.
Coll come to ARBA from the University of Colorado and thinks he might stay in Washington if he can find a job he likes. Meanwhile, he is "archiving." "We have 55 jurisdictions doing the archiving, too, instead of just here at the national level, in keeping with the decentralized spirit of the Bicentennial," he said.
Another project to be completed is ARBA's five-volume report to the Congress. It will be an "unusual" government report, according to Herbert Hetu, who is working on it. "Volume I wull be sort of a coffee table book," he said, "with color photos of events that took place around the country during the year. We hope it will be sold to the public."
As for the proposed new monument for the District, the location, size and design are yet to be determined.
"We want it to be functional in design, not some stodgy thing with a person on it, but something where people come and rest and meditate," said an ARBA spokesman.
Meanwhile, the post-Bicenttenial job seekers join others in the melee. "This is a tough time, right now, with the change of administration. Everybody's in limbo, waiting to see who the players are," the spokesman noted.
But most of them, like Hetu, seemed to have no regrets. "I left the Navy," "cut the cord," and started over when I came here. I felt it was one chance in a lifetime to do something nobody had done or would do again. Even if I'm out of work," he laughed, "I can say that."