Tercentenary: How Plymouth Celebrated its 300th Anniversary in 1920-21

Screen Shot 2017 02 07 at 11.35.20 AMTercentenary: How Plymouth Celebrated its 300th Anniversary in 1920-21, Pilgrim Hall Museum

Exhibition review by Mayflower Journal Editor Dr. Walter L. Powell
Originally printed in the News & Notes section of Mayflower Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 2016

 

Tercentenary: How Plymouth Celebrated its 300th Anniversary in 1920-21 

Special Exhibition from October 8th through December 30th, 2016, extended through March 31st, 2017.
Pilgrim Hall Museum, 75 Court Street, Plymouth, MA 02360, www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org

From December 1920 through November 1921, a series of programs that included a Presidential visit, public ceremonies, parades, costumed processionals, concerts and more drew enormous crowds to downtown Plymouth, garnered national attention, and created a very successful observation of the 300th anniversary of the Landing of the Pilgrims in Plymouth. The planning leading to the Tercentenary was also marked by the deliberations of two separate Massachusetts Tercentenary Commissions between 1915 and 1920, grand memorial designs that were largely unrealized, and funding gaps created by the disruption caused by America’s entry into World War I.  The ultimate intervention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1919-1920 led to dramatic changes in the appearance of the Plymouth waterfront, with the decision to create a tourist friendly waterfront park by clearing an active working class maritime district of buildings, piers, and evicting some residents. This commemoration is the subject of Pilgrim Hall’s new exhibition, explored through the display of text panels, hundreds of Tercentenary images, objects, posters, drawings, maps, plans, and memorials. The exhibition also reveals the inside story of the planning and production of the elaborate 1921 historical pageant with a cast of 1300 local residents, featuring rare surviving costumes and a 21 foot panoramic pageant view.

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Pilgrim Hall Museum’s exhibition displays for the first time many of original costume designs with rare surviving actual costumes worn in the 1921 pageant. Over 1,300 residents of Plymouth and surrounding towns participated in “The Spirit of the Pilgrims.”

As visitors enter they cannot avoid contemplating the boldly displayed quotation by Massachusetts Tercentenary Commission member Sherman Whipple that “Plymouth must not lie back like a patient about to undergo an operation, expecting to take ether and then wake up after it is all over.” Throughout the exhibition, the text panels raise the issues as valid today as in 1920—how to adequately plan and finance the event, how to be historically accurate and culturally inclusive, and what should be left behind as a legacy for future generations.  Executive Director Dr. Donna Curtin and guest curator Dr. Anne Reilly, Executive Director of the Plymouth Antiquarian Society, have created an equally nostalgic and provocative display that reminds us “Though it exposed fissures of difference in American society, the Tercentenary did not create a forum for addressing challenging issues, historical or contemporary. It was, unabashedly, a celebration of America’s founding in Plymouth.” 

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The exhibit features a 21-foot panoramic view of the historical pageant cast (above) and a model of the 1867 Plymouth Rock canopy (below) which was demolished in 1920 in preparation for the larger canopy that exists on thewaterfront today.

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Tercentenary: How Plymouth Celebrated its 300th Anniversary in 1920-21 

Special Exhibition from October 8th through December 30th, 2016, extended through March 31st, 2017.
Pilgrim Hall Museum, 75 Court Street, Plymouth, MA 02360, www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org

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