The 200th anniversary of the USA’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence took place on July 4, 1976, and tall ships from around the world sailed to New York to participate in the Grand Parade of Sailing Ships, lead by the US Coast Guard ship Eagle.
In Upper West Side Story: A History and Guide, author Peter Salwen recounts how “revelers crowded into Riverside Park and the empty highway for a grandstand view of the greatest parade of sailing vessels in modern times, or maybe ever: Operation Sail ’76.”
Salwen continues to recall “more than 225 sailing ships under thirty-one flags, with thousands of smaller craft darting beside them like dragonflies as the crowd cheered and waved.”
He also notes how those who were lucky enough to have views of the Hudson River from their Riverside Drive apartments were pretty much expected to host their friends and relatives to observe the fleet.
In particular, he notes that Selma Weiser, owner of Charivari, “had an outdoor barbecue for seventy-five or so at her Riverside Drive penthouse,” and that “radio personality Barry Farber gave a legendary penthouse bash for several hundred at The Normandy [140 Riverside Drive] complete (so rumor said) with champagne, caviar, and dancing girls.”
A New York Times article from December 1976 describes Operation Sail as the event of the year, attracting millions of television viewers who couldn’t be there in person.
My father worked on Governors Island and was granted family passes for the BiCentennial.
As kids, though, passing ships couldn’t hold our interest for too long – we were looking forward to the fireworks, part of which were filmed for the King Kong remake.
My dad created the official Operation Sail ‘76 poster and received invitations to the USS Forrestal and the fireworks as a thank you. Since he was out of town, he passed the invitations to my wife and I. A motor launch ferried us (Tom Wolfe was on it too) to this magnificent eighty thousand ton carrier about the size of a football field. We could see the Eagle and about 16 Tall Ships from the bleacher seats where the guests awaited the arrival of President Ford or VP Rockefeller by helicopter. When I leaned back, I felt a knee, turned around gently and to my amazement, the knee belonged to Barbara Walters , the
Iconic journalist. I introduced myself and wife, Ms.Walters recognized my father’s name immediately and introduced Henry Ford and another friend. Ms. Walters was so warm and gracious, perhaps the secret to her success.