For one 6-year-old boy, 1926 sesquicentennial was a celebration rung in with style

| March 2006

  • Sesquicentennial.jpg
    WHAT A BELL: The Liberty Bell entrance to the sesquicentennial exposition was still unfinished when Philadelphia staged a mammoth parade with dozens of bands and 135 floats on June 4, 1926.
    Free Library of Philadelphia, courtesy Joe Curreri

  • Sesquicentennial.jpg

It was an exciting time for Philadelphians in 1926. That's the year the city put on an international exposition, the 'Sesquicentennial,' in commemoration of our nation's 150th anniversary. Every night was filled with fireworks and Mardi Gras-style parades. Everywhere there was food, music, singing and dancing. And at the entrance to it all was a giant Liberty Bell in the middle of a street, sparkling with brilliant lighting. I was a 6-year-old with eyes wide open in wonder, and this was my Disney World!

My family lived in South Philadelphia, and it was a short trolley ride to the exposition. My immigrant parents made the trip with their five children often during the exposition, which lasted from May 31 to Dec. 1.

Before then, entertainment had only reached me through our little radio and Victrola. At the exposition, I was amazed by the crowds, the lights, the ice cream and sodas. And that giant Liberty Bell fascinated me. When lighted, the 80-foot wonder was visible the length of the street.

Getting underway

At first, proposals for the exposition site were disputed, but when the city council voted to build a municipal stadium in South Philadelphia, things settled in its favor.

Before any construction could begin, however, some mammoth engineering had to be performed. The marshy land on which the exposition buildings would sit had to be drained and filled. Streets were surveyed, graded and paved, sewers and water and electric lines installed, and mosquitoes were brought under control.

The exposition opened with Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover addressing those present. A concert by the 108th Field Artillery Band, aerial exhibitions and fireworks entertained the public; a luncheon, dinner and Inaugural Ball were offered to special guests.

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