Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Golden Jubilee: "Frontiers of Freedom"

Ambridge's Golden Jubilee parade was quite spectacular, but that wasn't the only really big event planned for the celebration. The other was the original historical pageant extravaganza, "Frontiers of Freedom."

I wish I had more photos of the production, as it sounds very impressive. The three-level stage was was huge, built with lumber donated by Ohio Valley Lumber and volunteer labor. The largest stage was 40 feet by 10 feet and elevated four feet. The other two stages were each 10 feet by 10 feet, one elevated 10 feet, the second elevated 15 feet. The backdrops were 15 feet high.

The cast of actors, musicians, chorus, and dancers takes up three pages in the Golden Jubilee Program.

Construction of "Frontiers of Freedom" stage
Ambridge High School stadium field
Daily Citizen
June 22, 1955

The original caption for the above photo read:
Work has started for the mammoth stage for the "Frontiers of Freedom" pageant which will open next Wednesday at the Ambridge High School Stadium in conjunction with the Golden Jubilee. Elmer Blanarik is supervising the big project.
The pageant was presented at 9 P.M., Wednesday, June 29 through Monday, July 4, 1955. Before each performance, there was a preliminary program that ranged from The Accordion Band to ethnic dancers and musical groups. Fireworks capped each evening.

The Golden Jubilee Program's synopsis of the pageant describes the beginning as "a brilliant and colorful spectacle in which the Queen, 'Miss Golden Jubilee', and her Royal Highness, 'Miss Greater Ambridge', surrounded by the royal court, extend greetings to all visitors to the celebration."

Miss Golden Jubilee and Miss Greater Ambridge
Ambridge Golden Jubilee Program

The pageant, "A John B. Rogers Production," had 18 "Episodes" and a Finale. The episodes began with "The Saga of the Wilderness" with three scenes depicting the Indian village at Logstown, the coming of the French, and George Washington's visiting Logstown.

Several subsequent episodes were devoted to the Harmony Society and Old Economy, the beginning of Ambridge, and ending with "The Parade of Industry." *

Some of the episodes sounded quite dramatic:
Episode Fourteen: "World War I": 1914 and again the people of Ambridge hear the rumbling sounds of war in the making. This time the war is in Europe. Many were called and many were chosen, but there were those who never came back. Perhaps a Gold Star Mother knew and evaluated the loss.
While other episodes seemed quite lighthearted:
Episode Fifteen: "The Roaring Twenties": Days of the Flappers, Shieks (sic), bobbed hair, radio, flagpole sitters and marathon dancing! The Charleston! A satire on the hilarious days of the mad and merry twenties.
The finale reflected the political tone of the mid-1950s:
I am an American. . . Listen to my words, fascist, communist . . , I am an American, and I speak for Democracy!
Unfortunately, the weather wasn't ideal for an open-air production. Opening day was rained out. And the terrible heat may have kept spectators away, especially on July 2, after the long, long parade in which spectators and marchers passed out from the heat.

The Daily Citizen's July 1 review of the pageant was...polite: "'Frontiers' Get Audience Okay...It was reported to be somewhat slow moving and a bit ragged in places, but showed promise of becoming a fine production."

The paper also reported that the viewers' interest was "mostly in more lighthearted moments."

The Golden Jubilee wasn't over yet. Monday, July 4, was "Armed Forces" Day, featuring a "Mock Battle" in Borough Park. Eighty members of the National Guard would shoot 7,000 to 10,000 rounds of blank ammo, and dynamite charges were to be placed to simulate mine explosions and cannon fire. What could go wrong with that?

*A synopsis of "Frontiers of Freedom" describing the 18 episodes was published in the June 29, 1955, Beaver Valley Times. The ambition of the production is amazing.

Did anyone else's mind flash to Christopher Guest's mockumentary Waiting for Guffman, about a small town's musical historic pageant, when reading about "Frontiers of Freedom"?

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