PANAMA CITY — Banjo mixed with the smell of barbecue in McKenzie Park on Monday, as the people of Bay County gathered to mark a birthday milestone.
The event played out under threatening gray skies, with gusts of wind kicking up the moss and palmetto fronds, and knocking over banners printed in patriotic colors. Deep South Bluegrass played music, and folks from the Historical Society of Bay County led tours of the Sapp and McKenzie houses. Public Eye recorded videos of old timers telling their personal histories, and J.R.’s Rib Shack served burgers (with Sugar Boogers providing cupcakes).
The ghost of 100 Fourth of July gatherings moved through the crowd, as familiar today as it was in 1913. Exactly 100 years prior, the public had gathered in what was then called City Park to hear political speeches and live music, eat barbecue and celebrate the birth of a new county.
As I wandered the park and watched the people in their folding chairs and Hoverounds, I wondered what those folks of olden days would make of our current world if they could have traded places with us for the day.
A lady sitting under a palm tree talked of how the crowd of 100 years ago probably would not have complained about the heat or humidity, since they had yet to be spoiled by air conditioning. But aside from technological marvels, they probably would wonder why things haven’t changed that much.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been gathering clippings of articles from newspapers of the day, including the Panama City Pilot and the Lynn Haven Tribune, to post on The News Herald’s online Centennial page. And it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that the Bay Countians of that time were concerned about much the same things as today’s residents.
They thought their government was ineffective. They looked forward to a brighter future, and beheld much of the past as some kind of Golden Age before the world turned so dark and dangerous.
But there were also elements of their personalities expressed in those news pages that are glaring in this age. To put it mildly, let’s just say that, at their best, they treated women and minorities as second-class citizens.
I looked around an integrated crowd on Monday and realized that we had at least that much on our forefathers. It makes me glad to be living today rather than 1913.
After all, it doesn’t matter how old you get, so long as you’re growing and improving. It’s not the years, after all, but the impact you have during them.
(This is my "Undercurrents" column for The News Herald and PanamaCity.com this week.)
A couple more official events are planned this summer to commemorate the Bay County Centennial:
l The Visual Arts Center Centennial Exhibit will open July 12 and run through Sept. 6, showcasing photographs and artifacts from the past 100 years. Contact Bonnie Jones (769-4454 or email@example.com) if you have photographs or items you would like to share for this exhibit. They are also looking for exhibit sponsors. The Visual Arts Center is at 19 E. Fourth St. in Panama City.
l The Bay County Centennial Gala will be 6 to 11 p.m. on Aug. 17 at the Panama Country Club, 100 Country Club Drive, Lynn Haven. Enjoy fine dining and entertainment while celebrating Bay County’s proud past and bright future. (Reception 6 to 7 p.m.; four course dinner 7 to 8:30 p.m.; dancing to the sounds of SolShine 8:30 to 11 p.m.) Details: 248-8277.