A Year of Coming Together
Sunday, September 3, 1989 dawned a bluebird day in Sudbury and Beverly Bentley breathed a sigh of relief. One down, two to go. If the weather would hold for only another 48 hours, Sudbury’s 350th anniversary would be over and, hopefully, a success.
Bentley was understandably nervous. Three years of planning and fund raising had gone into this birthday bash and she and her committee were determined to produce something special.
The events had started the previous spring with two sellout performances of “Town Meeting Tonight,” an original musical written by Dr. Bill Adelson and produced by Virginia Kirschner. The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra joined the combined Sudbury church choirs for a sold-out concert in April; the Sudbury Minute and Militia held a Colonial Heritage Weekend in May and a delegation of Sudbury residents led by retired Selectman Ann Donald visited Sudbury, Suffolk, in England’s East Anglia region to extend an invitation to Mayor Sylvia Byham to join the festivities. In August, four busloads of citizens attended Sudbury night at Fenway Park.
A 350th logo design contest was held and Meredith Palmer’s winning entry was soon on caps, T-shirts and sweatshirts being worn by nearly everyone in town. The clothing sale raised more than $15,000 which was eventually returned to the Town. Thanks to adroit fund raising and contributions from local merchants, the year-long celebration didn’t cost the Town a cent aside from police overtime.
In early August, the Committee revealed its celebration weekend plans to the Town. The parade would start at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School and end at Raytheon. Bands scheduled to march included the U.S.S. Constitution honor guard, Ancient and Honorable Artillery Co. of Massachusetts, Fort Devens Band, Needham Military Band, the Blue Knights Motorcycle Club, Sudbury Companies of Militia and Minute, and Sudbury Ancient Fife and Drum Corps.
There would be more than ten different neighborhood floats plus various civic groups and organizations, all competing for $800 in prizes. (The committee underestimated here. Fifty-two separate units marched in the parade including 28 floats and five bands.) President Bush and Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry and Governor Michael Dukakis had been invited. Special 350th first-day-of-issue cachets for stamp collectors would be available at Bentley’s Stationers and a Post Office van would be parked at the Sudbury Inn Marketplace to cancel them on September 4, the 350th anniversary of Sudbury’s incorporation.
The first evening of the celebration went off without a hitch, Ruth Brown cut the Official Town birthday cake, donated by Marrone’s Bakery, and everyone had a slice before enjoying a night of dancing. Five bands, featuring everything from the big band sound of the Suburbanaires to Rock and Roll and Dixieland jazz played at various halls around the common, the sound of their music wafting through the twilight as townspeople strolled the blocked-off streets and stopped to chat with friends and neighbors.
Sunday’s activities were to center around the Lincoln-Sudbury athletic fields where a field day, picnic and flag raising would be climaxed by a laser light show after dark. Dozens of tents and marquees had been set up along the edges of the fields where they offered every sort of craft and ethnic food imaginable. Kids participated in competitions and games, got their faces painted by itinerant artists, went for a hayride, or listened to story tellers while their parents tried their hands at horseshoe pitching and other games.
During the morning, volunteers had cordoned off a large area of the Lincoln-Sudbury High School’s north parking area where a large crane donated by Joseph Piazzi and the New England Crane Company, and several cannons of the Massachusetts Tenth Artillery Battery were waiting to receive the Mount Rushmore Flag.
Commissioned in 1986 by the National Park Service, the 45 by 90 foot, 330-pound flag is an official exhibit of the Department of the Interior Take Pride in America Program. Its stars and stripes were made in different parts of the country and were assembled at the John F. Kennedy Library. It flies only at official functions of state, with the President, or at very, very special ceremonies.
As more than 8,000 townspeople gathered around, the flag was removed from its solid cherry chest by volunteers and secured to a 1.5-ton spar attached to the crane. The wood for the chest was gathered in each of the 13 towns of Plymouth County commemorating the original 13 colonies. The chest and flag are based at the Boston Historic Park at the Charlestown Navy Yard aboard the U.S.S. Constitution.
The 10th Battery’s cannon boomed out a 21-gun salute and the strains of the National Anthem filled the air as the crane slowly raised the spar. Each volunteer clung to the edge of the flag until the very last minute before being forced to let go, and then stood in place and saluted until the flag cleared the ground and waved in the gentle breeze. There wasn’t a dry eye within earshot.
“The Mt. Rushmore flag pulled everybody together,” Bentley recalled later. “During the raising of the flag I just happened to look back around me and here was a gentleman standing near me. I didn’t know who he was but he was standing there giving the traditional salute with the tears just streaming down his face. What memories that must have brought back to him.”
The National Park Service had contacted Bentley’s Committee and offered to fly the Mount Rushmore Flag at the field day provided the Town would arrange and pay for the crane and the operator. “On a Friday night late I was literally looking through the phone book for a crane company,” Bentley recalled. “I called this company in Framingham and this fellow answered the phone said ‘Yes, I can do that but you’ll have to pay the driver because it’s a holiday.’ I went to Raytheon and they picked up the $2,000 tab for the driver and National Park Service expenses. We really lucked out. It didn’t cost the town a penny.“
As the sun set that evening, music from the Cantabridgia Brass Quartet drifted across the field and finally it was really dark. The thousands seated around the field and on the hill near Concord Road saw the lights go out all around them and watched the first beams of the laser show march across the school wall. They watched as townspeople, not activists. The Mount Rushmore flag had drawn them together as one.
“Family Day at the High School Grounds brought out citizens of all ages,” wrote Mary Jane Hillary in the Town Crier. “Everyone was part of the community family as well. The common bond of being part of the Sudbury celebration made everyone brothers and sisters for the day. The only credential you needed was the joy of being part of a birthday celebration worth waiting 350 years for.“
“The biggest highlight was the way the people and committees worked together to get it done,” said Bentley. “We had the plans, but it would have never come off if people like Hal Cutler and Lois Toeppner and others hadn’t pitched in. Even to this day it impresses me. Harold set up that whole transportation system and Lois was in charge of the Saturday night dances.
“The night of the dance I was talking to [Chief of Police] Pete Lembo. He was sitting there having one of his cigars and he said: ‘I can’t believe it. We have so many people wandering around this town and there are absolutely no problems.’ We had no problems, no arrests for the whole weekend. There was no disorderly conduct. Everybody was wonderful.“
There was still the grand parade on Labor Day with retiring Wayside Inn Innkeeper Frank Koppeis as Grand Marshal and Mayor Sylvia Byham of Sudbury, Suffolk, England and her husband Roy, and Mayor Peter Wong and his wife Lynn of Sudbury, Ontario, as special guests, but it was almost an anticlimax. While the floats and clowns and fire engines were fun, people came away remembering where they were and what they did when the Mount Rushmore flag was raised skyward.
Forgotten was the rancor from the previous spring’s battles over the Proposition 2 1/2 override which had failed. On this day, people weren’t pro-education or anti-affordable housing; they were just neighbors and friends who happened to live in a town called Sudbury. The financial battles would go on into the next decade and beyond, but there would always be consensus and the Town would go on as before.
Perhaps Selectman John Drobinski put it best in the 1989 Town Report. “The aftermath of the celebration left a common thought in our minds,” he wrote. “It was a year of coming together.“
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the life of a Town, a 256-page sequel to A.S. Hudson’s History of Sudbury. Autographed copies are available from Porcupine Enterprises, 106 Woodside Road, Sudbury, MA 01776. Hardbound presentation copies are $26.25 including tax plus $3.20 postage. Trade paperbacks are $12.60 including tax plus $3.20 postage.