The Glorious Second

July 02, 1995|By PETER A. JAY

HAVRE DE GRACE — Havre de Grace. -- Though we might not like it, we're going to make the best of it, and celebrate just as enthusiastically today as we would if it really were the Fourth instead of the Second. We'll have a parade with marching bands, fire trucks, and politicians in old cars. Local businesses have prepared floats, and of course there's a carnival.

This year as added entertainment we anticipate a parachutist, ,, who with the setting sun is to be dropt from the zenith like a falling star -- not like Lucifer in ''Paradise Lost'' onto Lemnos, the Aegean isle, but onto Tydings Island down by the town marina. Later, after the sun sinks into the western woods behind the sewage-treatment plant, there will be a tremendous fireworks display.

Neither the attending politicians nor anyone else will be permitted to make patriotic speeches. That sort of thing has gone out of fashion, along with white shoes with matching belts. But we'll have plenty of American flags, including lots of those little plastic ones manufactured in the Orient, and it's sure to be a first-class Fourth with nothing second-rate about it.

The reason we in Havre de Grace find ourselves celebrating Independence Day on the Second has nothing to do with our patriotism or our historical awareness. It has to do with Market Forces, those invisible influences that organize and sometimes disrupt so many aspects of our lives.

Market Forces have set the salary of Cal Ripken, who was born here. They have lifted the Dow-Jones average and brought down the price of laser printers. They're getting ready to bury The Evening Sun in the News American's grave. And of course it's they who make sure that Santa Claus shows up in our downtown shopping district every fall sometime around Columbus Day.

Market Forces have made it clear to Havre de Grace and many other small communities that if they want to get the best marching units for their Fourth of July parades, as well as the best fireworks displays and the biggest crowds, they should schedule their celebration for a day when nearby big cities aren't having theirs. Thus this year we'll be waving our flags on the Second.

Whatever the calendar says, Union Avenue, down which the Havre de Grace Independence Day parade passes, is one of the great settings for such a celebration, and a source of considerable municipal pride.

The street begins at Legion Square, near the railroad bridge and the statue of the Marquis de Lafayette, who is said to have suggested the town's name in 1777 while waiting to cross the river by ferry. After the Revolution, the town fathers decided ''Havre de Grace'' was more distinctive than ''Susquehanna Lower Ferry,'' as the little place had been known before. They adopted the young French officer's suggestion when the town was formally chartered in 1785.

Lafayette also crossed the Susquehanna in April 1781, when he was moving south with troops. It was too risky to cross at Havre de Grace, so he forded the river upstream near Conowingo. A strong young man from Port Deposit named Aquilla Deaver carried him across on his back. In 1824, an old hero making a triumphal tour of the nation he had helped create, Lafayette came back to Havre de Grace once again. And after 43 years, Aquilla Deaver was here to meet him.

In 1824, Havre de Grace must have looked very different from the way Lafayette remembered it. It had grown, but it was also still rebuilding. Only 11 years earlier, British forces under Adm. George Cockburn had burned it to the ground.

Moving south down Union Avenue, each year's Independence Day paraders pass streets named Franklin (for Ben), Green (for General Nathanael Greene), Congress, Lafayette, Alliance (for the French Alliance) and of course Revolution. There was once a street named for Gen. Arthur St. Clair, but it has been renamed Pennington for a city politician of the '20s and '30s.

On a sunny July day, Union Avenue's Norway maples afford shade to parade-watchers. The great old houses, built a century ago by opulent corn and tomato canners and set well back from the curb, lend dignity. And at the end of the street beyond the park where the Ferris wheel turns, the broad shallow Susquehanna Flats stretch away to the south.

It's a pity, really, that the Fourth of July celebration in such a special place has to be held on the Second. But no matter. If we want to see another parade on the Fourth this year, there's supposed to be one in Kingsville.

7)

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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