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The art show at 50 [Editorial]

Seems like there's no such thing as a time of year in Havre de Grace that isn't busy with preparations for, clean-ups after or the actual celebration of some sort of festival.

The city boasts a first rate Fourth of July parade and fireworks, as well as a seafood festival, its annual Decoy Festival, a related Duck Fair, a Children's Arts Festival, a Christmas Candlelight Tour of buildings and homes, and a few others, including some that have come and gone over the years.

Aside from the Fourth of July, which is celebrated everywhere in some way shape or form, the event in Havre de Grace that made the others suddenly seem plausible had some rather auspicious beginnings a half a century ago, the Havre de Grace Art Show.

This year, as has been the case for many years, the event was presented by the city's chapter of Soroptimists International, which graciously puts proceeds from the event into a scholarship fund. As is reliably the case, many dozens of artists and craft makers were on hand in Havre de Grace to show off an array of decorative and useful items. That has been a successful formula for quite some time, but the show was a bit more grand in its beginning.

When it began, the art show was known as the Million Dollar Mile Havre de Grace Art Show because the organizers went to some lengths to ensure that the value of exhibited items on display in Tydings Park exceeded $1 million. It would be something of a feat these days to secure an arts exhibit with items valued at $1 million or more, but 50 years ago, it really was a big deal. Back then in 1963, a new Cadillac could be purchased for less than $5,500; that was a princely sum compared to the roughly $2,000 it would cost to buy a Ford Falcon.

Putting together a Million Dollar Mile of new Cadillacs, for example, would have involved more than 160 cars.

The organizational skills behind the event, and the idea for something as highbrow as an art show, belonged to an immigrant couple, Drs. Gunther and Poldi Hirsch. They had left Europe as the Nazis came to power, and were involved in the 1948 Israeli independence struggle. They would eventually move to the U.S. and settled in Havre de Grace, where they raised a family and became involved in the civic activities of the community. Among their first endeavors was the organization of the Million Dollar Mile.

Cancer would claim Poldi Hirsch, while her husband, a city councilman at the time of her death, would go on to be elected mayor and eventually president of the Harford County Council.

The Hirsch family has not been involved in the art show in a high profile way for many years, and the event of 2013 was substantially different from the original. Still, Havre de Grace owes a tremendous debt to the art show and the visionaries behind it for recognizing something 50 years ago that these days seems obvious: Havre de Grace is a great place for a festival.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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