Mary O'Brien of Berlin says she has always enjoyed July Fourth celebrations. But she admits that this year the holiday will be even more special because of the six months her husband, Edmund, spent serving with his Army National Guard military police unit in the Persian Gulf war.
"I've gotten so used to looking for flags and ribbons," says Mrs. O'Brien. "We took a week's vacation to Amish country in Pennsylvania, and even in obscure little areas they had ribbons and flags and banners welcoming home the troops.
"Fourth of July is the culmination," she says. "It kind of brings everything to an end. Now we have him home."
In fact, this July Fourth will be the first time the O'Brien family has had Mr. O'Brien home in years. The 13-year veteran of the Ocean City police force usually has to work that day. But this year, he'll join six other Ocean City employees as the town's guests of honor at what officials are promising will be the best July Fourth celebration in the resort's history.
Ocean City attendance usually hits its high-water mark on July Fourth, as many people turn the holiday into a long weekend from work. With more than 300,000 people expected, Ocean City will stage two celebrations, one uptown and one downtown.
Both the July 4th Jamboree in the Park and the July 4th Musical Beach Blast will feature 20-minute fireworks displays by Zambelli Internationale. This year, the pyrotechnics will be synchronized to music broadcast over speakers at both locations. The only other fireworks show along the Delmarva beaches are an hour's drive north in Slaughter Beach, Del., so attendance at Ocean City's shows should be heavy.
Visitors at the town's north end and families who want a full day of activities should check out the Jamboree in the Park, held at Northside Park on 125th Street on the bay side. This family-style festival will offer 50 arts and crafts booths as well as food vendors and carnival games.
For the kids, there will be pony rides, a moon bounce tent and contests. Relay races will go off from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and competitions in watermelon eating, pie eating and bubble gum blowing will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Two pop music bands, the Electric Brigade from the U.S. Naval Academy and the show band Spectrum, will be the featured entertainment for the Jamboree in the Park.
The bands will alternate performances from 5 p.m. until about 9:15 p.m., when the fireworks begin.
Though there are a few picnic tables at the park, town officials recommend that festival-goers bring their own blankets or folding chairs.
The Musical Beach Blast, Ocean City's downtown Independence Day party, will feature three free concerts on the beach at Caroline Street.
The action will start with Big Wheeley and the Whitewalls, a rock and roll "greaser" band from York, Pa., who are making their fifth July Fourth appearance in Ocean City. In addition to belting out golden oldies by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino and others, Big Wheeley and the Whitewalls challenge their audience to Hula Hoop contests and Elvis impersonations. Their shows will take place at 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
At 5:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., the Volunteers, a five-man component of the U.S. Army Field Band, will take the Caroline Street stage. The Volunteers, who were a big hit at Ocean City's Springfest this year, will perform oldies as well as current American pop and country music.
Headlining the Musical Beach Blast will be Baltimore's Zim Zemarel Orchestra, performing an American pops concert. The show will start at 8:15 p.m. and continue until 11 p.m., with a 20-minute intermission for the fireworks show. The first 200 people to arrive for the Zim Zemarel show will receive small American flags as souvenirs.
Admission to both Ocean City celebrations is free. There will be free parking at the Convention Center (40th Street on the bay side), with shuttle buses running to the downtown celebration. Both events are a short walk from the regular Ocean City bus line, which runs from First Street to 142nd Street and offers unlimited rides for a dollar a day.
In order to accommodate the setup of the downtown fireworks show, beach access from the Wicomico Street pier to Caroline Street will be limited all day Thursday. In addition, the U.S. 50 drawbridge will not be raised for its usual 9:55 p.m. opening so that cars leaving the fireworks will be able to get out of town more quickly. The bridge will resume its regular schedule with a 10:25 p.m. opening.
Rain date for both Fourth of July fireworks shows is Friday at 9:15 p.m.
Lewes, Del., celebrates an old-fashioned Fourth of July every year with a small parade on Second Street. But the Independence Day parade many people will be watching in this quaint seaside town will take place on the water.