The program from the Adams County Sesquicentennial pageant in 1950. Courtesy of the Adams County Historical Society.
On a hot evening in July 1948, a group of Adams Countians met in a room that was made even hotter by the presence of so many people. The air conditioning was cranked up and everyone got down to the business of planning a celebration of Adams County’s sesquicentennial. The committee had been formed at the suggestion of the Adams County Historical Society.
“Anniversary celebrations are both entertaining and informative,” wrote Leighton Taylor, chairman of the Adams County Sesqui-Centennial Association. “They promote good will and fraternalism, encourage enterprise and initiative, and create a just and pardonable pride in progress and achievement. Moreover, with subversive elements trying to destroy our American Way of Life, we need a revitalization of our patriotism and love of country. This we think can be done most efficiently by reminding Adams Countians, in dramatic and colorful presentations, of their free institutions, their exalted and favored position as American citizens, and of the unparalleled progress made by them and their forebears during the County’s 150 years.”
Brothers of the Brush
With two years of planning, Adams Countians began noticing something different during the summer of 1950. “The rumor that there is a razor blade shortage was spiked Tuesday. … beards, goatees, mustaches, and sideburns have begun to sprout on manly countenances as countians join in the spirit of things by permitting the facial hair to grow freely,” the Gettysburg Times reported on August 5th.
The men had joined the “Brotherhood of the Brush” in preparation for the county’s 150th birthday party. The men had agreed not to shave their beards for a month. At the end of the celebration, prizes would be awarded for most-luxuriant beard, best full-face beard, blackest beard, reddest beard, grayest beard, most-typical beard and best old-time costume with matching beard. A special award was also given for the man who tried his hardest to grow a beard and failed.
Harold Ecker was a young man in his 20’s at the time of the celebration. Besides participating in some of the events during the sesquicentennial, he was also a Brother of the Brush.
“I went to Atlantic City while I was growing a beard and someone wanted to know if I was a Jewish rabbi,” Ecker said. He eventually won second place for the reddest beard.
The Brothers of the Brush paid 50 cents for a badge that explained why they weren’t shaving. Shaver’s permits were also sold for $1 that gave them permission to shave. During the sesquicentennial celebration a Kangaroo Court was also set up to fine any male who was caught shaving without a permit.
The 50 participants showed up at the county courthouse on September 2 to have three Gettysburg barbers judge their beard-growing efforts during August. Some of the men had trimmed their beards in unique ways or added large rubber noses or other features to their faces. More than 2,000 people showed up to watch the judging. “So large was the audience that it nearly overwhelmed the ‘Brothers of the Brush’ and the judges and practically blocked traffic on Baltimore Street,” the newspaper reported.
While the whole thing was a fundraiser for the sesquicentennial, it was also fun for the participants and even the barbers.
“Barbers had a ‘field day’ harvesting the Brothers of the Brush following the parade Saturday,” the newspaper reported. “Most in mock seriousness asked the bearded contestants how long they had been growing the beard, asked how often they shaved, and then threatened to charge 50 cents for each and every shave that had been missed. All finally settled for 50 cents for one shave.”
The Parade of Progress
The sesquicentennial celebration covered five days with each day filled with events and having a different theme. “Adams County’s biggest birthday celebration ever came in its 150th year,” the Gettysburg Times noted in 1975.
The party began on Wednesday, August 30 with Queen’s Day. The other days’ themes were: Patriotic Day, Youth Day, Adams County Day and Freedom of Religion Day. Each day, other than Freedom of Religion Day” featured its own themed parade.
The festivities began on Wednesday, August 30 at 10 a.m. with an “aerial bombardment” as the program described it. Everyone on Adams County was encouraged to blow whistles and honk car horns. Churches range their bells.
More than 10,000 people turned out to watch the “Parade of Progress” on Saturday, September 2. It was billed as one of the largest parades in the county’s history with 34 floats “representing practically every possible scene in the county’s history,” according to the Gettysburg Times. Old cars, buggies, costumed participants and 14 bands and drum corps also participated in the parade.
“Back then, we had some beautiful floats in the parade,” Ecker said.
The Littlestown Rotary Club won the $100 top prize for the best float. “The wigged and costumed persons on the float danced the minuet while others played the harpsichord and violin as the float passed the judges’ stand on Lincoln Square,” the newspaper reported.
The Gettysburg Exchange Club won second place with a four-unit float that portrayed the history of Adams County including Mr. and Mrs. James Getty following up in a buggy. Lincoln Logs placed third with a replica of a log cabin on their float with Bernard Fraser playing Abraham Lincoln.
Roland Kime participated in the parade with the Senior Extension Club. “We were on the bed of a truck square dancing,” Kime said. The Senior Extension Club also performed square dancing demonstrations throughout the celebration.
Things were so busy on Saturday night that the newspaper report noted that it took 45 minutes to drive through town.
The keystone event of the celebration was the performance of “Freedom’s Frontiers.” It was an original 20-scene theatrical performance that featured a cast of 500 in historical costumes acting out the history of Adams County. It also featured ordnance supplied by Letterkenney Army Deport. The show played four nights of the celebration. Each performance filled the Gettysburg College stadium.
George Sipes was a sixth-grade student living in East Berlin who also played one of the 16 students in an early classroom scene in the pageant.
“We just sat in a classroom and didn’t say a word,” Sipes said. “We never even got to see the play. As soon as we were done, we got in a car and left.”
Sipes said that Archie Himes, the man who played the teacher in his scene, knew the boys from around town and sports games. He gathered them together one afternoon and asked, “Who wants to be in a play in Gettysburg.” A few of the boys raised their hands and they were immediately cast. Luckily, they also didn’t need to do any rehearsals for their part either.
Donald Ullery, executive secretary of the Adams County Sesqui-Centennial Association, wrote after the celebration that “a large, curious group of people gathered to witness the display.”
During the days, visitors could walk the main streets of most of the towns in the county and view historical displays in business windows. The businesses were competing for prizes and Thomas Brothers Department Store in Biglerville won the top prize. The display “contained authentic items of a country store of many years ago, according to the judges,” the newspaper reported. You could see a pot-belly stove with a live cat sleeping next to it as well as a cracker barrel.
You could also watch historical vignettes performed in various towns. Ecker’s wife and daughter dressed in costume to perform in one near the St. James Lutheran Church in Gettysburg. He said that they performed every three hours or so during the day.
Children and adults could enjoy midway games and sports at Gettysburg College.
Visitors purchased wooden nickels that could be used as cash during the celebration, but apparently none of the 10,000 wooden nickels that had been sold were ever redeemed.