Soldiers marched in uniform and bands danced in the street as patriotism found many outlets in the "I Am An American Day Parade."
But some politicians found an uneasy undertone at yesterday's parade, or at least a reticence among many spectators to exercise their rights as citizens in the city primary election on Thursday.
"This year and in these times, I sense more depression, maybe related to the recession. Everybody has a problem," said Samuel A. Culotta, a Republican candidate for mayor, who worked the crowd in a blue seersucker suit, his pocket bulging with campaign brochures.
The event was still "a good occasion to fly the flag," but the crowd seemed smaller and the people less spirited than they were in parades past, Culotta said. "I find a very 'anti' mood."
Richard Anthony Ingrao, a Democrat running for City Council in the 1st District, seemed to take part in this atmosphere as he shook hands along the parade route from Fells Point to Patterson Park.
Some people seemed surprised to hear the election would be this Thursday, he said. "What can you do?"
Ingrao attributed the apathy to "lack of faith in government," and said his own lack of faith in the incumbents waging big campaigns was what got him into the race.
Yesterday was the latest parade in a Baltimore tradition dating to 1938. The event was meant to honor newly naturalized citizens, and still does. Later, as the parade underwent changes in scheduling and sponsorship, it also honored war veterans and put on a show of patriotism.
Before cannons blasted huge smoke rings into the air to start the parade yesterday, 28 men and women from 19 different countries took the oath of citizenship in Patterson Park. Street sweepers and hawkers of cotton candy occasionally drowned out their voices. Walter E. Black Jr., chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Maryland, urged them to vote and to "get to know your fellow Americans and try not to be clannish."
As the new citizens strode from the reviewing stand, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars handed them Desert Storm flag insignia pins to wear.
The theme of this year's parade was to honor soldiers of the Persian Gulf War like John Frawley of Towson, a Maryland National Guard sergeant, who turned out for the event in a Desert Storm T-shirt that said: "U.S.A. We came. We saw. We kicked butt."
Frawley had attended such parades since he was a boy, first for the excitement and the hot dogs, he said, "but as I got older, it probably meant the patriotic message."
But a tanned leathery man in a medal-spattered, World War II campaign hat said the Desert Storm veterans had enjoyed too many parades already.
"I don't like the theme of this parade," he said, while passing a jug to collect money for disabled veterans. "After World War II, we didn't get nothing. But they want to give everything to these people for a 40-days war."
If it would be any consolation, next year's parade will honor World War II veterans.
The work for next year begins today, said Del. Anthony DiPietro Jr., D-City, who has organized the event for the last four years. DiPietro planned to start right away looking for the oldest World War II veteran and asking for money all over again.
Donations to this year's parade were down, he said. "That's due to the fact of the bad economy."
DiPietro said he had raised $6,800, mostly from corporations and small businesses as well as from the city, which made a grant of $1,900. But the parade would cost about $7,500, a shortfall that he said would be made up from a reserve account of surpluses from previous years.
He hopes the next parade will be bigger, which would make more work for Virginia Overman, who made a point yesterday of placing her hand across her chest for a moment of silence for every flag that passed.