A Look Back
The 1940s and '50s were a simple yet eventful period in the First State, as reflected by these photographs from the collections of Delaware Public Archives and the Delaware Historical Society. Join us for a nostalgic trip back.
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This shot of Newark’s Main Street was taken on August 9, 1950. Unlike today, when the street’s two lanes carry travelers westward only, vehicles could travel in both directions. Of course, parking meters are still abundant along the busy stretch, but the landmark State Theater pictured at right was razed in 1989 and replaced by a restaurant and retail complex called the Galleria that features a Grotto Pizza. The State, which opened in 1929, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places before its demise. There’s no doubt that many University of Delaware alumni recall attending raucous midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” during the State’s later years.
Despite standing 6 feet 6 inches tall, Governor Elbert Carvel, affectionately known as “Big Bert,” is dwarfed by the now-famous giant frying pan that made its debut at the 1950 Delmarva Chicken Festival at Dover High School. The pan, made by the Mumford Sheet Metal Company in Selbyville, measured 10 feet in diameter, had an 8-foot handle and weighed 650 pounds. The original pan was retired in 1988 after cooking more than 100 tons of chicken. The first chicken festival was held in 1949 to celebrate and publicize the region’s thriving broiler chicken industry. In this photo, festival queen Jane Mustard pretends to place a chef’s hat on Carvel’s head. Carvel, a native of Laurel, served as Delaware’s governor from 1950 till 1954 and 1960 till 1964. He died in 1995, just three days before his 95th birthday.
The Return Day celebration in Georgetown remains a uniquely Delawarean event. According to Delaware Public Archives, the exact origin of Return Day is unknown. Some say it may have been established as early as 1792, after the county seat was moved from Lewes to what would become Georgetown, where all voting was done at the county courthouse. In 1811, voting districts were created and a Board of Canvassers was required to meet on the Thursday after a general election to determine the returns for Sussex County. Voters would "return" to hear the results. In this photo taken in the 1950s, Jim Walls serves platters of roast ox, a tradition. The event was by then well-established and continues to draw thousands to The Circle today, where politicians perform a ceremonial burial of the hatchet, opponents share horse-drawn carriage rides during a parade, and the Town Crier announces returns from the courthouse balcony. The free ox sandwiches are as popular as ever.
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