October 29, 2022 | Last updated Oct 16, 2023

Celebrating the Pilgrims, 1620-1920

Omaha’s tercentennial parade in 1920 included this float depicting the Pilgrims landing in the New World. RG2941-6-119

The 300th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing at the future site of Plymouth, Massachusetts, in December 1620 was widely celebrated in 1920 in the United States and Great Britain. In the U.S. three commemorative stamps and a special tercentenary fifty-cent coin were issued to help observe the event.

In Nebraska Governor Samuel R. McKelvie appointed a statewide committee, headed by John L. Webster of Omaha, to plan appropriate observances. Some local events were staged or combined with existing fairs. The most notable tercentennial celebration in the state was at Omaha, where a September 23 parade or “Pilgrims Pageant” was a part of the Ak-Sar-Ben Fall Festival, held September 14-25.

This float depicted the arrival of an Indian messenger to the Pilgrims. RG2941-6-120

The Fall Festival featured automobile and horse races, a “Grand Electrical Parade” on September 22, and the Coronation Ball for the King and Queen of Ak-Sar-Ben on September 24, but the tercentennial parade was a major attraction. The Omaha World-Herald reported on September 24: “All the struggles, hopes, despairs and achievements that have filled 300 years and have made the history of this country glorious in the annals of history, were depicted in scenic display . . . before enthusiastic thousands that crowded roofs, office windows, grand stands and sidewalks to attend the pageant in honor of the tercentenary of the landing of the Pilgrim fathers.”

Elaborate floats with costumed citizens depicted the Pilgrims’ departure from England in September 1620; their ship, the Mayflower, on the high seas; their signing of the Mayflower Compact aboard ship; their landing in the New World; and their subsequent meeting with Native Americans. Floats depicting the Boston Tea Party, the Liberty Bell, and the Goddess of Liberty were also included in the parade. The World-Herald noted: “A touch of realism was given to the occasion by the presence of many fullblooded Omaha Indians, who paced along silently between the floats and bands.” More than six hundred Boy Scouts helped manage the thousands of spectators along the parade route.

Float depicting the Boston Tea Party. RG2941-6-117

Almost one hundred years have passed since the 300th anniversary celebrations of the Pilgrims’ arrival in the New World. The 400th such anniversary will occur in 2020, and large-scale commemorative events in the U.S. are planned.

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