A Blast for the Past

Leave it to Lancaster’s history-loving philanthropists to turn history – and the efforts to preserve it – into a party. Who knew history could be so much fun!

For 12 years, the Lancaster County Historical Society has marked Valentine’s weekend as its time to send a love letter to the past. Celebrating all that the organization – now known as LancasterHistory.org – enjoys in support from the community through its sponsors, donors and friends, this year’s “Evening of Romance and History” shined a spotlight on the 1950s, a decade of exciting changes in Lancaster.

The 50s were rockin’ in Lancaster: Stan’s Record Bar was buzzing with sales of 45s; Sears was coming to the Lancaster Shopping Center (the space is now home to the A.C. Moore craft store), and  WGAL-TV’s headquarters on Columbia Avenue was a brand new building. Thanks to the post-war baby boom, six new area high schools were opening, where new dress codes prohibited ducktail haircuts, tight jeans, tight sweaters, motorcycle boots and leather jackets. Innovators at Hamilton Watch produced the Ventura, the first battery-powered watch, and Miss America 1954, Evelyn Ay, was a graduate of Ephrata High School’s class of ‘51.

With those markers, and others, to celebrate, LancasterHistory.org’s gala committee set to transforming the Hamilton Club into a stroll down memory lane for its guests. Making the first impression was the foyer, transformed into Stan’s Record Bar, a Prince Street landmark that exists today. The ballroom entrance became a “Hall of History,” a photo gallery of nearly 100 photos of Lancaster life from the celebrated decade, plus 50 more borrowed from personal collections that showed the hot fashions of the day on fresh-faced event attendees.

Sporting a few more well-earned wrinkles and silver hairs since the photos were snapped on their Kodaks, guests donned their 50s-era fashions again for the party, from crinoline-lined cocktail dresses to motorcycle jackets and poodle skirts. Lest you think that all LancasterHistory.org supporters are of the senior set, some guests were not even born in 1950, or 60 or 70. “The event was born out of a desire to bring new energy to the Historical Society – boy, has that worked!” said Vice President Robin Sarratt. “The event – and our overall support – has grown tremendously over the last 12 years. I credit this event, along with a few other key programs, with bringing a younger yet multi-generational audience to our organization and with broadening our reach in the community.”

Having visually transported guests to the 50s through black-and-white photos, the next step into the ballroom was a Technicolor version of time-travel. Hundreds of candles twinkled in a ballroom awash in pink lighting; the dance floor made for rockin’ round the clock. All was orchestrated by the event’s committee chair, Tim Arpin, the gifted floral designer and landscape artist of The Gilded Lily.

What’s a 50s party without a soda shop? The Hamilton Club’s stately Buchanan Bar went casual for this special night, becoming Jimmy B’s and serving ice cream sundaes with hot fudge, sprinkles and jimmies, of course.

The sold-out event brings nearly $70,000 to help fund LancasterHistory.org’s ambitious educational programs offered throughout the year at its North President Avenue Campus of History and neighboring Wheatland, home of Lancaster’s most famous son, President James Buchanan. And, says president and CEO Tom Ryan, that helps LancasterHistory.org “remain at the forefront in efforts to chronicle our community’s history and to learn from the past to enrich our community life in the present day.” Coolsville, Daddy-O.

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