Cake detailSara Lee's bicentennial birthday cake stood in Memorial Hall for three days. During that time, more than 30,000 people filed through the hall to view this masterpiece.

Originally, the Sara Lee chefs had envisioned actually serving the cake to visitors. Before opening to the public they consulted with the Philadelphia Health Department, who agreed that the cake, which had been frozen until assembly, was entirely safe for public consumption. However, on second thought the chefs decided to take another approach. As keepers of Sara Lee's sterling reputation, they felt that the cake might not be at top quality after sitting at room temperature over a three-day period. So the fabulous structure was left intact to be admired in all its glory, and instead each visitor received a fresh Sara Lee chocolate cupcake.

At the end of the party, the time came to disassemble the cake. First the decorations were removed and re-crated. Several of the royal icing paintings were going to new permanent homes. Publicity about the cake had generated lots of interest in these decorations, and a number of organizations had spoken up for them. For example, the painting of the first baseball game went to Cooperstown, New York. Each of the paintings was preserved (and no longer edible, of course) for posterity.

Then down came the cake—a rather sad moment. It was a rainy day in Philly, and as the chocolate cake was loaded into wheelbarrows and wheeled out to waiting dumpsters, the marble floors and steps of Memorial Hall turned muddy with chocolate.

And so, like all parties must do, this one ended. For all Americans and particularly those of us in Philadelphia, Independence Day 1976 was unforgettable. I had the most wonderful time participating in it, and it will always be a fond memory.

But wait! There's more!

Next: 2009 update...

1. Introduction 2. Chicago to Philly 3. The birthday party
4. Updates 5. Behind the scenes 6. The collection