RJ 150: Remembering bicentennial fever in Meriden and Wallingford

RJ 150: Remembering bicentennial fever in Meriden and Wallingford


Bicentennial excitement gripped the nation in 1976 and local cities and towns joined the frenzy.

Observances during the July 4th holiday weekend itself were somewhat muted as residents traveled to the historical sites and celebrations in Boston and New York. But years of planning leading up to the bicentennial culminated in a wide range of patriotic festivities at other points during the year.

Meriden’s bicentennial committee staged a series of events beginning in 1975 with a reenactment of local settlers’ response to the events at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts led by Captain John Couch of Meriden. More than 300 people gathered on the Broad Street Green for the reenactment.

“With a flourish of Yankee Doodle and cheers of townspeople filling the air, 38 Meriden colonial militia men, fifers and drummers marched toward Concord to defend liberty Sunday, just as they did 200 years ago,” the Morning Record reported.

Resident Kate Leether sounded the alarm riding horseback in colonial garb portraying post riders Paul Revere and Israel Bissell. A group of Explorer scouts actually retraced the route from Meriden to Concord which Colonial soldiers would have marched. After walking the 132 miles to Concord, however, they were too exhausted to attend special bicentennial events and had to be driven home. A separate reenactment was held in Hubbard Park in July 1976, while the American Freedom Train, a steam-powered locomotive touring the nation to commemorate the bicentennial, paid a visit to Meriden in August 1976.

Wallingford marked the bicentennial with a week’s worth of festivities in May 1976 (planned as early as 1973). Events culminated with a parade drawing 15,000 spectators along with a multi-night extravaganza at Lyman Hall High School billed “Heritage ’76.” The show provided a whirlwind tour of U.S. history followed by fireworks. Other festivities included a rocking chair marathon sponsored by the Bicentennial Committee.

Grace Cerrato kept her chair rocking for 74 hours to win the competition. Former Morning Record reporter Randall R. Beach experienced the contest firsthand, lasting an impressive 36 hours in the chair himself.

“It was like living in a zoo,” he wrote. “We were freaks of nature on exhibit for the curious and incredulous who came to see what breed of man or woman would set out to rock in a rocking chair longer than anyone else in town... Wallingford has never before experienced a rocking chair marathon and it should be a long time before the participants are ready to try one again.”

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