The big parade would have been last Saturday. The tall ships would have arrived a month from now. Statehood Day, already postponed from March 15, was slated for Sept. 27, followed by the sealing of the Maine Bicentennial Time Capsule on Oct. 10.

So much for the best laid plans.

“The worst part of it for me is that I know how many people have put in so many voluntary hours to make this stuff come together,” Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, chairman of the Maine Bicentennial Commission, said in in an interview Thursday.

Welcome to what Diamond calls “2020 plus one,” also known as Maine’s belated 200th birthday celebration. It’s all going to happen, promises an irrepressibly optimistic Diamond, but for now we’re just going to have to wait.

To appreciate how much life has changed in so short a time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, go back to the minutes of the 22-member commission’s last meeting on Feb. 25 at the now-closed Maine State Library in Augusta.

It was, for all concerned, an exciting time. Statehood Day, a massive celebration planned to coincide with the March 15 anniversary of Maine’s admission to the union in 1820, was less than three weeks away. The timetable for other major events throughout the year – the parade in Lewiston-Auburn, the tall-ships visits to Portland, Castine and six ports in between, the bicentennial bash at the Augusta Armory – all were pretty much signed, sealed and ready to go.

Nowhere in the recap of the 90-minute session does the word “coronavirus” even appear. The minutes end, rather presciently, with this line: “At Sen. Diamond’s suggestion, the Commission did not set a date for the next meeting.”

For those of us who revel in all things historic, 2020 was to be a year like no other, a chance to look beyond our normal lines of demarcation – where we live, how we vote, where we got our schooling, how much we make – and collectively bask in how blessed we are to call this place home.

Now, like everything else, the party is on hold. It’s hard to drink a toast to the “Great State of Maine” when everyone has a mask on.

“What I don’t want to do is squeeze it in just so we can say we did it in 2020,” Diamond said. “We’re not going to ignore (the pandemic), and we’re not going to say, ‘To hell with this or that – we’re going to go ahead and do it because we have a right to.’ I mean, that’s all silliness.”

Nor, after repeated attempts to push back this date or that event and see what happens, does it any longer make sense to think wishfully. Whatever track we’re on with COVID-19, it’s not going to be over anytime soon.

Still, these things do end. Maine’s centennial celebration in 1920 came on the heels of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. That nightmare claimed the lives of 670,000 Americans, including an estimated 5,000 Mainers – the majority of whom succumbed during that pandemic’s infamous second wave in October of 1918.

Less than two years later, Portland marked Maine’s 100th birthday with 10 days of merriment, each day centered on a different theme. The 57-page official program for the event contained nary a word about the Spanish flu.

We can only pray that this time, Maine might move on as quickly.

While Diamond talks of a 2021 schedule that essentially replicates the original plan for this year, it’s still too soon to know where this coronavirus will take us: Will our second wave mirror that of 1918? Who will win the race to a vaccine – and when?

Whenever the corks start popping, Diamond promised, “it’ll be just as much of a celebration. And maybe we can celebrate that we’re over this COVID-19. We can celebrate a couple of things maybe next year.”

Hope springs eternal.

The good news, Diamond said, is that the commission’s $1.9 million budget – a combination of state and private funding – remains intact. Major sponsors have stayed on board, and the more than $500,000 in grants already awarded by the commission for local exhibits and events around the state will stay put.

“If it is impossible for you to reschedule within 2020, please look to the year ahead,” Diamond wrote in a recent letter to the grant recipients. “We have every confidence that despite any delay, you will help us celebrate 200 years of statehood by showcasing the best of what you do and who you are.”

The irony of all this is that even as Maine hits the hold button on celebrating its rich history, a crisis of major historical significance continues to unfold right under our feet.

What will they say 100 years from now about the year Maine’s economy ground to a halt, people made their own masks, and kids went to school without leaving their homes? Will they see that we, like our predecessors did 100 years ago, shrugged this pandemic off and marched confidently toward the future?

More immediately, what will we put in that time capsule when it’s finally sealed up for posterity?

According to Diamond, the capsule will be a replica of the North Star, made of high-tech composite material compliments of the University of Maine. Each point will be a small compartment where, every 25 years, new signs of the times can be inserted.

As for the initial offerings, I hereby nominate a COVID-19 nasal swab. “And an N95 mask!” Diamond agreed with a chuckle.

And so, fellow Mainers, despair not.

Someday we’ll party like it’s 2020 … plus one.


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