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How Ellicott City's spirits lifted after a devastating flood — in 1972

Majorettes from Glenelg High School parade down Ellicott City's Main Street during the bicentennial celebration.
Majorettes from Glenelg High School parade down Ellicott City's Main Street during the bicentennial celebration.(George H. Cook / Baltimore Sun files / Oct. 9, 1972)

Ellicott City was definitely in the mood for a party in 1972. Fortunately, the town’s bicentennial celebration obliged.

Things certainly weren’t looking good in June, when Hurricane Agnes paid a devastating visit to the area. More than 80 Ellicott City homes were damaged by the floodwaters. Agnes was, as more than one astonished weather expert said, a “once-in-a-lifetime” storm (and we all know how well that statement held up). Spirits in Ellicott City were low.

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But just four months later, in early October, the celebration of the town’s 200th birthday seemed to lift everyone. “I remember being in this same spot the day after Agnes,” Gov. Marvin Mandel said just before a parade kicked off the celebration. “Now I sit here and it’s completely different — you’d never know anything happened.”

Robert McCracry, director of "Within These Hills," stands outside bicentennial headquarters, modeling a hat and vest combo that was common garb among the celebrants.
Robert McCracry, director of "Within These Hills," stands outside bicentennial headquarters, modeling a hat and vest combo that was common garb among the celebrants.(Walter M. McCardell / Baltimore Sun files / Oct. 9, 1972)

The celebration lasted a week. There was a carnival, complete with wooden nickels for the kids, stamp and coin shows, and the performance of “Within These Hills,” a birthday spectacular cast with townsfolk. There was even a grand ball for 750 guests at the Turf Valley Country Club.

“It was the kind of day that comes once every 200 years,” Baltimore Sun reporter Matthew J. Seiden wrote on day three of the celebration, unable to resist stating the obvious. Under a deep blue sky, yet another parade down Main Street featured “a motley procession of horses, farm machines and retired ‘farm queens’ from beauty pageants dating back as far as 1941. … Local belles paraded in bright calicos and white bonnets.”

The storm that hit historic Ellicott City and nearby areas Sunday is likely worse than the storm that caused flooding in 2016, according to meteorologists.

Not everything cooperated, of course. A replica of the Tom Thumb, one of the earliest steam locomotives, crushed a man’s foot under one of its wheels, and a broken piston kept it from actually riding the rails.

But for most, the bicentennial celebration was a blast, a sure sign that Ellicott City wouldn’t stay down for long.

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