When we celebrated the Spirit of 76′

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 2, 2006

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series.

By Ed Shannon, staff writer

This nation’s bicentennial in 1976 resulted in an abundance of special observances to help celebrate the 200th birthday for the United States. And in the Albert Lea area these observances were based on the &8220;Spirit of &8216;76&8221; theme for many events 30 years ago.

Memorial Day, for example, had extra significance that year. However, the main emphasis for the bicentennial was based on the Fourth of July weekend.

To provide a patriotic touch and to emphasize the spirit for this particular year, many of the

city’s fire hydrants were painted red, white and blue by local Girl Scouts, according to a Tribune photo.

During the Fourth of July weekend, two dedications and an opening were held.

One dedication was for Shoff Park, named for a former mayor. This park is located on State Highway 13 and just south of St. John’s Lutheran Home.

The second dedication was for a new footbridge linking the north side of Lakeview Boulevard

between Abbott Street and Blackmer Avenue with a small island in Fountain Lake. This island had been known as Hansen, named for a former owner. Then it became known as Dress Island, named for a nearby resident named George Dress who donated this particular place to the city for use as a park. The dedication ceremony took place on July 1, 1976, when Mayor Paul Larimore cut the ribbon on this bridge which was mostly paid for by Council 1590 of the Knights of Columbus.

The opening was for the new Visitors Center at Helmer Myre State Park on July 4.

Most of the 1976 bicentennial activities during the Fourth of July weekend were listed in the Tribune for Albert Lea and three nearby communities.

Events in Bricelyn started at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 2, with the Miss Bricelyn Pageant at the grade school. Kari Marie Hamson, age 16, was crowned Miss Bricelyn. The schedule on Saturday, July 3, included a parade at 1 p.m., followed by a horse show and mini tractor pull, two style shows, an evening chicken barbecue in the park, a water show at the swimming pool, a program at the high school by author Jess Lair, and concluded with fireworks.

A flag dedication at 2 p.m. Saturday started the weekend schedule in Emmons on Saturday, followed by a parade, and an evening pie eating contest and concert at Gateway Park. Events on Sunday, July 4, included an 8 a.m., church service at Gateway Park, an afternoon kiddie parade followed by games and races, and concluded with a evening chicken barbecue and fireworks.

Most events in Northwood, Iowa, were based on Sunday which started with a community church service at 9 a.m., followed by a 1 p.m. parade, and an evening commemorative pageant at the Worth County Fairgrounds.

There were several events in Albert Lea 30 years ago to provide variety for the public to enjoy. One was a rodeo at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds on both Friday and Saturday. Another was a VFW baseball tournament on Saturday and Sunday.

The local Fourth of July parade in 1976 was sponsored by the Albert Lea Jaycees organization. It started at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 3, and went from Central Park to the fairgrounds. The parade’s grand marshall was Irv Sorenson, a local artist and illustrator who created the &8220;Hi-Lites and Shadows&8221; series of historical sketches for the Tribune.

Events for Sunday, July 4, started with an 11 a.m. church service at the fairgrounds. An afternoon concert by the &8221;Full House&8221; musical group took place at the Edgewater Park Bandshell. The evening lineup started with a 7 p.m. band concert at Fountain Lake Park, followed by an 8:15 p.m. water-ski show, and ended with fireworks.

About the only major news elsewhere in the nation was based on the multitude of bicentennial celebrations 30 years ago. World news was focused on the Olympics in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

An editorial in the July 7, 1976, edition of the Tribune said:

&8220;While the area Bicentennial celebrations are still not over, the Fourth of July weekend has to be considered a big success, nationally and locally.

&8220;Area people responded by the thousands to the multitude of Bicentennial events that were scheduled. Parades held in the area were well planned and the people who participated did an enormous amount of work in preparing their entries.

&8220;As it had been hoped to be, the Bicentennial celebration served as a great national uplift. …

&8220;Celebrations in this area began last month and there are still more scheduled for later in the summer. Other regularly scheduled events, such as the Freeborn County Fair will carry a Bicentennial theme.

&8220;The American Bicentennial has turned out to be better than anyone could have possibly imagined. Those who were responsible for planning the observances in this area deserve much congratulations for their efforts.&8221;

However, there was an unexpected aftershock from Albert Lea’s Fourth of July celebration three decades ago. An editorial in the July 20, 1976, edition of the Tribune commented:

&8220;Like many things we enjoy, we had begun to take the Albert Lea firemen’s Fourth of July fireworks display for granted. We hadn’t bothered to express our appreciation for a while and had simply showed up at Fountain Lake on the evening of the Fourth and enjoyed the show.

&8220;Last week’s announcement by the firemen that they are no longer going to present the fireworks, came as a great shock. The announcement said that costs are increasing beyond what proceeds from the Firemen’s Ball and other sources of income could properly finance.

&8220;This year’s display, helped financially by the Bicentennial Commission and other organizations in the community, was the most costly ever presented. It was also among the best, although we have always felt that each year’s display was a little better than the previous year.

&8220;We would hope that the firemen would reconsider their decision and plan to continue to present fireworks as they have for the past 15 years. It is a tradition we would not like to see ended.

&8220;However, if the firemen feel it is impossible to continue the project, we hope that some other group will at least take on the fundraising for fireworks. …&8221;

Next: In part two will be information as to how the people of Albert Lea celebrated the nation’s centennial on July 4, 1876, plus the delayed news of a military defeat which was to shock the nation a few days later.