OCEAN CITY -- Maryland's beach resort came to life for this holiday weekend that commemorates America's war dead, playing host to an estimated 280,000 visitors.
"I think it was a spectacular weekend," said Martha Clements, director of the Visitors Center. "Every parking lot was full, every restaurant was out to the fence."
Ms. Clements gave the estimate of this weekend's visitors based on last year, which was about the same.
Some area hotels offered late checkouts for visitors, she said, trying to help lessen the traditional traffic jam yesterday afternoon.
"It's really bad on a day this beautiful to have to pack and leave at 11 a.m., " she said.
Westbound traffic leaving Ocean City and other points on the Eastern Shore began to slow along U.S. 50 in the late morning -- a pattern that continued during the afternoon and into the evening, with traffic slowing at times to speeds of 20 mph on the Bay Bridge.
The worst traffic problems on U.S. 50 were reported at Easton -- where a 3 1/2 -mile rolling backup continued throughout the day -- and on either side of the Bay Bridge, from Kent Narrows to the Route 2 interchange.
Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., nearly 4,100 vehicles crossed the Bay Bridge in the three lanes open for westbound traffic, but by 8 p.m. the surge had subsided, said David E. Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration at the Bay Bridge.
It was a relatively peaceful weekend, according to Ocean City authorities. Minor traffic accidents, boating violations, stalled cars and boats and even a pet cougar on the loose kept authorities busy.
"Millions of boats and millions of Jetskis," said Graham Bostic, duty officer yesterday at the Coast Guard Station at the inlet. He said 21 vessels were stopped during the holiday weekend, but no arrests were made.
The Coast Guard responded to 18 requests for assistance. The weekend got off to a big start when three people were rescued Friday from a 37-foot capsized catamaran near Chincoteague Island. The three were in good condition, the Coast Guard said, despite having been in the water since Wednesday night when the catamaran overturned.
No serious problems
Local and state police reported a fairly steady stream of minor accidents and violations, but no serious accidents or fatalities were reported in Ocean City and the surrounding area during the weekend.
"We wrote well over 200 citations for speeding and seat-belt violations," said 1st Sgt. Chuck Martin of the Maryland State Police's Berlin office.
He said 14 people were arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated, three more were arrested and charged with possessing a controlled dangerous substance (drugs) and there were six minor traffic accidents on the four major roads in and around Ocean City: Route 90, U.S. 50, U.S. 13 and U.S. 113.
Ocean City Police Department's Barry Neeb reported a similar ++ pattern of accidents and arrests, but no major incidents.
Cougar on the loose
The Maryland Natural Resources Police, which enforces state law on the waterways, cited four boaters for alcohol-related violations and spent the weekend looking for a full-grown cougar that had escaped from its owner, near Pocomoke City.
The cougar escaped from its pen Thursday night while a handler was feeding it, said its owner, Mark S. Frostrom Jr. The 3-year-old male cougar was raised as a pet and has been declawed, officials said. As of yesterday, the cougar was still at large.
Although the weather was sunny for most of the weekend, a brisk wind and the chilly Atlantic waters kept most beachgoers on the sand, said Capt. George Schoepf of the town's Beach Patrol.
No rescues had been required by yesterday afternoon, said Beach Patrol Crew Chief Lane Douglas, who also noted that the water was a chilly 58 degrees, discouraging any serious swimming.
"As long as that water stays in the 50-degree area, people will go in up to their knees and come back out," said Mr. Douglas.
Although most people appeared more interested in having the day off than remembering those slain in their country's defense, a short ceremony at the American Legion on 24th Street drew about 50 people, most of them World War II veterans and their spouses.
The observance, which dates to the Civil War, was led by Commander Larry Smith. After an honor guard began the ceremony, a chaplain offered a prayer and Councilman George Feehley, who was a cadet in the Army Air Corps when World War II ended, spoke briefly.
Legion Auxiliary President Charlotte Rusher -- whose husband, Warren, was in England preparing for the Normandy invasion 50 years ago yesterday -- read the poem "In Flanders Fields."
Mr. Rusher listened as his wife recited John McCrae's lines honoring those who died in World War I: 'In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row."
After the indoor ceremony, Mr. Smith laid a wreath of red, white and blue silk carnations outside the red and white building along Coastal Highway as a passing Jeep filled the air with the strains of reggae.