Baltimore sizzled its way into the Fourth of July weekend yesterday, as thousands took in parades, fireworks and even a demonstration amid typically hazy, hot and humid weather.
In the streets, at state parks and on national battlefields, the nation's 217th birthday celebration got off to a rousing start.
But all was not happy amid the high-flying flags and festive floats rolling down the streets during Catonsville's 47th annual Independence Day parade.
Nestled among thousands of parade watchers was the Gay and Lesbian Veterans of Maryland Inc., which had been prohibited from participation two years in a row.
"We're good enough to fight and die," said Rex Horn, the organization's president. "But we're not good enough to march in a parade celebrating the independence of our country."
The 20-member parade committee changed its bylaws so that all parade participants require sponsorship from a committee member. None of the members sponsored the gay veterans group, which stood with protest signs while more than 100 other community and business groups strolled down the milelong gantlet of parade watchers on Frederick Road.
At a news conference minutes before the parade, Timothy Hartlove, 23, told why he believes Catonsville, the community in which he grew up, had betrayed him. Mr. Hartlove's grandfather has been a member of the parade committee for many years.
"It's deplorable that [parade committee members] are not allowing us to march," said Mr. Hartlove, an insurance agent in Baltimore County. He said he collected money for the parade as a child. "Now Catonsville doesn't want me to be me. They want me to be who they want."
Several parade organizers chose not to discuss the issue of groups being excluded, opting to refer the issue to their public relations manager, who could not be reached.
However appropriate political disagreements may be on a holiday celebrating the separation of a group of colonies from an English monarchy, other parades, concerts and celebrations in the Maryland area were less controversial.
The 19th annual Severna Park Fourth of July parade delighted hundreds yesterday morning as floats, bands and even Barney -- that ubiquitous public television dinosaur -- marched the 2.5-mile parade route, ending at a festival featuring rides, games and food.
Parades in Dundalk, Essex, and Havre de Grace also were traditional affairs watched by thousands of spectators.
An old-fashioned community celebration started yesterday afternoon in Jacksonville in northern Baltimore County, and culminated in a blaze of fireworks at the Jacksonville ball field.
Fireworks exploded in the skies throughout Baltimore last night, with displays at Catonsville High School and along the Susquehanna River in Havre de Grace.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, in its traditional holiday concert at Oregon Ridge Park in Baltimore County, played Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" as the sound of cannon fire and fireworks boomed over the thousands of spectators on the lawn. The orchestra will repeat the concert tonight at 8.
In Western Maryland, nearly 35,000 turned out for the eighth annual Maryland Symphony Orchestra concert at Antietam National Battlefield, a performance that ended in fireworks.
The fireworks weren't all that sizzled yesterday.
While hardly a record setter -- you have to go back to 1898, when the high temperature was 104 -- yesterday's dripping, stagnant 93 degrees made it feel, well, like the day before the Fourth of July is supposed to feel.
"This is pretty typical stuff for this time of year," said Bob Melrose, a forecaster with the National Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "The forecast is pretty straightforward for summer: hazy, hot and humid."
Expect daytime temperatures in the mid 90s and nighttime lows in the 70s from today until about Thursday, Mr. Melrose said. But, he said, don't expect any rain. A stubborn high pressure system to the southwest is keeping the chance at precipitation near zero through most of the week.