The Town of Plymouth, Mass., commemorated the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims from June to September 1921 with the most elaborate birthday celebration the nation ever experienced: The Pilgrim Tercentenary Pageant.
Massachusetts Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge persuaded Congress to do something it had never done before: appropriate the unusually large amount of $400,000 for the commemoration. Plymouth’s celebration set another precedent with a federal commission – chaired by Lodge — to ratify planning.
The Tercentenary in August featured a pageant parade, entitled “A Pilgrim’s Progress,” of men and women dressed in colonial clothing. An estimated 100,000 people attended the pageant celebrating the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. Shore-side buildings and wharves were demolished so the shore could be filled in to its current size. The pageant, which cost $200,000, included 1,200 costumed participants, a 300-person chorus and an orchestra.
Speakers at the August pageant included President Warren G. Harding and Vice President Calvin Coolidge, the British and Dutch ambassadors, Mass. Gov. Channing Cox and Henry Cabot Lodge. The pageant caused the worst traffic gam in the history of Southeast Massachusetts.
A new canopy was designed for Plymouth Rock by McKim, Mead & White. The rock was moved before the old canopy was removed and broke in two – for a second time.
Southerners, aware that Jamestown was founded 13 years before Plymouth, were not impressed. Wrote historian Michael Kammen,
Animosity hung in the atmosphere like heavy humidity that summer, and the onset of local tercentenary tensions simply served to provoke Southerners who had been seething for decades.
One Southern writer wrote snarkily,
We were conquered, and one of the penalties was the stealing of our history along with a good many other robberies.
A number of Wabanaki Indians travelled from Maine to Plymouth to take part in the pageantry and sell their wares. This postcard shows Horace Nicholas and his family. They sold baskets and root clubs, according to Historic Iroquois and Wabanaki Beadwork blog.
Today, celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims are being planned in Plymouth and in Provincetown, where the Pilgrims dropped anchor before sailing on. The Plymouth 400 Commemoration will include a candle-lighting ceremony and concert, an exhibit of Wampanoag history and a Forefathers Family Fun Day. Follow it on Twitter at @TeamPlymouth400.
This story was updated from the 2014 version. Photos courtesy Library of Congress.