By Harry McCawley

Columbus and Bartholomew County have or will have had their shares of centennial-type celebrations in recent months. It wasn’t that long ago that Dell Bros. men’s clothing store and the local Coca-Cola franchise put 100 years behind them.

Earlier this year, Columbus Regional Health hit the 100-year milestone, and in the coming months Donner Park will observe its centennial – an event that is being paired with the 75th birthday of the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department and the 25th anniversary of Mill Race Park. Next year will mark the 150th anniversary of high school education in Columbus.

While all of these are important milestones in local history, they have to take a back seat to a community observance that is on the 2021 calendar – the bicentennial party for Columbus and Bartholomew County.

Admittedly, a four-year planning process might seem like overkill, but based on longevity and historical importance, community leaders will have their hands full. Fortunately, they have precedents to study – the centennial and sesquicentennial observances of 1921 and 1971.

Story continues below gallery

I’d suggest they use the 1971 bash as a model. Those folks knew how to party.

The 1921 centennial is almost a footnote in local history, based on a review of stories in The Evening Republican. In fact, it was deemed so non-newsworthy that organizers of the centennial parade decided to save money by partnering with the state chapter of the Modern Woodmen of America, who were holding their annual convention in Columbus.

In fact, the visiting Woodmen might have outnumbered their Columbus hosts. “The Modern Woodmen had the largest section of the parade with several hundred visiting Woodmen in line,” The Evening Republican reported in its issue of May 4, 1921.

This is not to say that the parade was the beginning and end of Bartholomew County’s centennial party. As the newspaper went on to note, it gave the firefighters the opportunity to show off three pieces of their modern firefighting equipment.

The parade disbanded at City Hall at Fifth and Franklin streets, but the party went on inside the building, where an estimated thousand people listened to a community concert by the City Band, participated in a community songfest and watched a high school basketball game. Yes, City Hall was the home court for the Columbus High School Bull Dogs at the time.

While the modest events might have seemed like an understatement on the occasion, it’s important to keep in mind that resources were extremely limited compared to today or even 1971, when it can be said that local party-givers were equipped to put on a pretty big bash.

In fact, there were at least 44 separate events tied to the official Bartholomew County sesquicentennial from Oct. 9 to 16. Events ranged from the public display of the 3.84 billion-year-old moon rock on loan from the Smithsonian Institution to the final judging of the Brothers of the Brush competition.

While the moon rock certainly outweighed the Brothers of the Brush in terms of global significance, its comparative popularity didn’t hold a candle to all the guys with “staches” and full-grown forests of facial hair walking around town.

In a sense, the Brothers of the Brush project was a form of male liberation in an era when crisp shirts and ties were required in offices throughout the city. Office managers were peppered with requests to grow the added facial hair months before the final judging, some supplicants suggesting that the honor of the company was at stake.

I even joined the march of the lemmings away from the barbershop but on a scale, limiting the growth to a pair of “mutton chops.” They gave way to a realization that they itched, and I shaved them off the day after the judging. It would be another 18 years before I went full length with the beard that I now possess, since it’s about the only hair I have above my neck.

The sesquicentennial was far more than fun and games. In late May The Republic printed the largest edition in the paper’s history, more than 100 pages. The majority were devoted to the county’s history. The newspaper also turned its pages over to community leaders and area schoolchildren, all of whom were asked to speculate what the future held for them and their community in the next century.

Incidentally, the special section was the last edition to be printed on the antiquated presses of The Republic’s building at Fifth and Franklin streets before the move to the modern setting at Second and Washington streets. Now, that building no longer prints a newspaper.

I’m not sure when planning officially began for the 1971 sesquicentennial, but judging from the results I would imagine that people were at least talking about it four or more years before it happened. Believe me, it was worth the effort.

Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at harry@therepublic.com.