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July 4, 1976, My View of the Bicentennial

The Runup

July 4, 1976 was the 200th anniversary of the signing of The Declaration of Independence. Even before 1976 America began its celebration. A television network began “Bicentennial Minutes” in 1974. A “Bicentennial Minute” would tell what happened 200 years before related to the U.S. road to independence. A television commercial to promote tourism to Great Britain mentioned some British connections to the George Washington. The commercial ended by saying, “…all is forgiven”. Government stationary had the bicentennial logo on it. Red, white, and blue became fashionable decoration colors. The Viking I landing was scheduled to land on July 4, 1976 but NASA delayed the landing to find a suitable landing site. Astronomer Dr. Carl Sagan pointed out a crash landing “would have been an unsatisfactory two hundredth birthday present for the United States.”[i] Large and small Bicentennial celebrations were planned throughout the United States. Curiously, the music industry didn’t make a serious attempt to join the Bicentennial fever. The lone exception was the song “200 Years”, performed by comedic actor, Henry Gibson, in the 1975 movie “Nashville”. The song didn’t make the Billboard top 100 singles.

[i] Cosmos by Carl Sagan, © 1980, Carl Sagan Productions, P. 120. The Viking I landed on Mars on July 20, 1976.

Opposition Voices

There were opposing voices. Mad Magazine ‘s March 1976 Issue had a calendar that told of the less than praiseworthy events in American history.[i] New York celebrated the U.S. Bicentennial with Operation Sail. One local politician calculated the cost of the spectacle as a way to have the event canceled. Another local politician retorted the other politician knew “the cost of everything but the value of nothing”. The barquentine “Esmeralda” of the Chilean Navy was the center of controversy. It was one of the tall ships to participate in Operation Sail. The “Esmeralda” had a history of being a place where the Augusto Pinochet regime tortured political prisoners.

[i] Mad Magazine No 181 – March 1976, “Mad Salutes The Bicentennial Year”.

My Operation Sail pictures.  Taken with a Polaroid camera.

My Operation Sail pictures. Taken with a Polaroid camera.

My Experience and Lesson Learned

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. In 1976 I was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland. On Friday, July 2nd I drove to New York for the three-day weekend. The nightly news showed where U.S. warships, led by the U.S.S. Forrestal, sailed into New York Harbor. A battery at Fort Hamilton saluted the ships as they sailed by.[i]

I was a couple of miles away from New York Harbor. In New York many believe the best viewing area for a major spectacle is a living room couch.[ii] The television shows close-up views without other spectators getting in the way. I decided years from now I wanted to be able to say more than I watched Operation Sail on television. On July 3rd I met with some church friends and we went on the 69th Street Pier in Brooklyn where we saw the warships. It was a spectacular site. There wasn’t a great crowd there. That evening I asked my younger brother Steve if he would want to come along with me so we could see the ships. The view was even more spectacular at night. There was just the right number of people there. There were enough people there so we didn’t feel alone, but not so many people there that we couldn’t get a good view of the harbor with the illuminated warships. July 4th was the big day. I had heard the foreboding of getting caught in a major crowd where I couldn’t see anything and where it would be impossible to get out once I got in. I suggested to my younger brother we go down and see how close we could get without getting caught in the crowd. The first issue was parking. Since I was familiar with the area, I had no problem parking on a side street. At first, we stayed back from the promenade. When I saw the crowd didn’t look bad, I suggested we move up. We were able to get to the seawall without trouble. The crowd was just the right size. The crowd was large enough to make it festive but no so large for it to be overwhelming. One fellow climbed over the seawall and was on the sand. He had some toy soldiers he was using as a foreground for some pictures. There were Good Year blimps overhead. Then the tall ships came. One by one each of these great sailing ships appeared and sailed past the crowd. After the tall ships there was a parade of smaller sailing vessels.

I and my younger brother were a part of the Bicentennial Operation Sail. When we got home my parents were hosting a barbeque. I boasted about the great view we had but I received the typical New York retort the view was better on television. I know the panoramic, three-dimensional view, that engaged all my senses was better than anything that can be shown on a 25” screen. The best part of my view was that I was part of the view and I got my brother to be part of the view. On July 4, 1976 I, and my brother Steve, watched the tall ships sail into New York Harbor.

[i] On July 4, 1776 warships entered New York Harbor and a battery from Fort Hamilton fired on them. A shell hit the HMS Asia causing damage and casualties.

[ii] It is said if you see someone in New York who has never been to some of the city’s famous landmarks you have met a native New Yorker.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi


Robert Sacchi (author) on September 22, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting. When I went to Boston I saw the USS Constitution from a distance. I'm glad you enjoyed reading the article. Yes, I remember Pele. He is one of those athletes that rose above his sport. He was in the movie "Victory" where he got to show off a bicycle goal. I understand he made 6 such goals in his career. I only attended 1 Olympic Event. It was the 1984 Olympics, the venue was Annapolis, MD. It was a soccer game, Iran vs Yugoslavia. Soccer isn't an American sport, I know little about the game, but who cared I was at the Olympics. Yugoslavia won by the way.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on September 21, 2019:


This was a fascinating read about a very important date in History.

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I remember that time as well as the US had a soccer tournament including some of the world's top soccer-playing sides and the great Pele was playing for the USA alongside a childhood hero of mine George Best (he played for Manchester United in the early seventies, and moved to the LA Cosmos around '74)

This was a fun read, and I often heard that same comment when I told my parents how great it was to be at a big sports event!

By the way, I've just finished watching a video documentary about the 'Old Ironside' the USS Constitution that was the model for the French warship in the movie "Master and Commander"

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 23, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting. That gives me an idea.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 23, 2019:

If your plan was to rope me in by using photos of tallships... well done! As an old sailor I cannot resist the lure.

Robert Sacchi (author) on July 26, 2019:

Yes, the Elissa Figurehead is one of many of the great linoleum cut pictures you have in your article, "Original Linoleum Cut Art Prints by Peggy Woods".

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 26, 2019:

If you take a look at the linocuts that I have done, the Elissa Figurehead is one of the Galveston prints.

Robert Sacchi (author) on July 25, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Peggy Woods - It's great that you have Elissa nearby. It must be something to watch it get underway.

Doris James MizBejabbers - I never did a forum before. I'll have to give that a look.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on July 25, 2019:

Robert, Re: your comment to me: Why don't you start a forum asking for tales from then? I love the idea, but I just don't have time right now to man a forum.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 25, 2019:

We have one of the working tall ships in Galveston, Texas, and it took part in that celebration. It is called Elissa. You and your brother have some nice shared memories.

I got a kick out of reading your last footnote.

Robert Sacchi (author) on July 12, 2019:

Thank youf all for reading and commenting.

FlourishAnyway - I agree. I wish I had a better camera. The Polaroids were ok for the '70s version of the selfie but didn't hack it for distance shots.

Pamela Oglesby - Yes, this is one of those historic days where the "where were you" question brings up joyful memories rather than sad ones.

Doris James MizBejabbers - It would be great to have a collection of stories from that day from different parts of the country.

bilabani on July 12, 2019:


Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on July 12, 2019:

You have given us a very nice description of the New York celebration of the bicentennial. I guess here in the middle of the country, we didn't really know how it was celebrated in the "13 colonies" part of the country.

My kids and I were able to enjoy a tour of the American Freedom Train that stopped in Little Rock. I'm not sure of the date, but I don't think it was here on July 4th. We were able to buy a few souvenirs, some of which we still have.

Liz Westwood from UK on July 12, 2019:

This is an interesting account of your memories of a landmark historical anniversary.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 12, 2019:

This sounds like a day you will surely always remember with all the ships and excitement. You account of the day was very interesting, and I enjoyed your article.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 12, 2019:

I enjoyed both your account and your photos. I was a child in Georgia during the Bicentennial year and recall the red, white and blue fashion styles, sometimes crazy. I forgot all about the Bicentennial Minute. I think it’s better to take a chance and try to brave the crowd and make some memories rather than simply stay home and sit on the couch and tune in on television.

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