Philadelphia eyes America’s 250th birthday celebration

Carol Spacht, a Betsy Ross re-enactor at the Betsy Ross House and Historic Philadelphia Inc., sewed an American flag in her Old City sewing room. Credit: Charles Mostoller. Carol Spacht, a Betsy Ross re-enactor at the Betsy Ross House and Historic Philadelphia Inc., sewed an American flag in her Old City sewing room. Credit: Charles Mostoller.

After careful consideration, Philadelphia officials elected last week to not bid for a chance to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.

And in the aftermath, locals have asked whether this decision will impact the region’s ability to host a celebration for the country’s 250th birthday in 2026?

“I think everyone agreed that the Olympics —while it would have been nice — we faced a lot of significant hurdles of having any real opportunity of getting the Olympics,” said Christopher Chimicles, a founding member of the group USA250, which recently formed to ensure the city hosts a large celebration on the nation’s semiquincentennial. “But this is tangible. This is real.”

Mayor Michael Nutter said city officials, after a year of deliberation, decided the city wasn’t ready to bid on the Olympics.

But next year millions are expected to descend upon the city for the World Meeting of Families, which insiders say will see Pope Francis celebrate mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, for six days in September 2015. This presents a good opportunity for the city to pinpoint any lingering infrasture and security holes it would need to remedy in the next dozen years to be ready for a large-scale, and some hope year-long, American celebration,Chimicles said.

Sam Katz, documentarian and perennial mayoral candidate and who previously served as CEO of USA250, said the Nation as a whole is not focused on this yet. And what Philadelphia needs to do is to decide that definitively it wants to do something significant for 2026.

“We probably were, and I think everyone recognized, that we were a long, long shot for an Olympics for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “But we have no competitors in what could develop as competition for the logical site to host the celebration of America’s birth. And we are far and away the best candidate not to be the exclusive host for those celebrations, but to be the central host.”

Katz said he envisions the celebration spanning the entire Philadelphia region: encompassing Brandywine,Valley Forge and Washington’s Crossing as well as Independence Mall. He said it’s important toengage every American from various backgrounds. “Everybody can be invited to celebrate themselves and the American story,” he said.

There are two ways, Katz said, that the region can become the central host: Wait for the country to establish commissions to plan the 250th celebration, “which I would strongly urge us not to do,” he said.

Or, “Simply decide we’re going to do it, and. … figure out a way to create the aurora of inevitability that the only place to do this is going to be Philadelphia.”

Philadelphia, if anything, has done well preserving its history and has positioned itself for such an opportunity to showcase its best attributes and on a grand scale, Chimicles said.

“As long as we don’t get in the way of ourselves, I think we stand a very good chance of demonstrating that this is something that can be very successful for the city and the region,” he said.

The comparison

As compared to other cities, Katz said Philadelphia is well-suited to host the celebration because:

“New York, physically, has very little left from the Revolutionary period. Neither the Declaration, nor the Constitution, were debated in New York.”

“Boston, which as more Revolutionary War heritage, doesn’t have the same claim for the birthing of the country.”

“And a the preservation of the assets from the Federal period in Philadelphia give it significant advantages.”


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