Happy birthday, USA Celebration: All over central Maryland, people observed Independence Day in comfortably traditional ways.

July 05, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Erica Harrington and Kaana Smith and contributing writer Ivan Amato contributed to this article.

Under clear blue skies, the Baltimore region celebrated the country's 220th birthday yesterday with traditional parades and festive family get-togethers.

But for some others, the Fourth was a sparkler-free day to accomplish the usual, from earning a living to repairing the car.

Parades were the big draw, entertaining throngs from morning to evening as crowds gathered on sidewalks in Dundalk, Towson, Catonsville and Annapolis.

Carol Connelly of Rising Sun said she has driven more than 45 miles to Catonsville since the 1960s to see the parade -- a tradition that spans generations in her family.

"We used to bring our children, and now we bring our grandchildren," she said.

The 50th Annual Catonsville Parade began with the honks and sirens of the Baltimore County and Arbutus Volunteer Fire Departments.

American flags whipped in the cool breeze, as parents, children and even dogs were decked out in red, white and blue. People kept time with the Baltimore Colts band.

Among the spectators was 95-year-old Marie O'Dea, who founded the Catonsville Parade a half-century ago.

"We started with just a few groups, but now everyone wants to get into it -- it's wonderful for me to see," she said.

Matt Amshey, who moved to Redondo Beach, Calif., six months ago, came home to see the parade.

"There's nothing like this" on the West Coast, he said from a porch along the Frederick Road parade route. "Everyone can come together on the holiday and enjoy the parade."

In Dundalk, expressionless band members marched while smiling politicians in polished cars waved at spectators. Trumpets blared and cymbals clashed, while children pleaded with their parents to dole out cash for cotton candy and toys.

About 30,000 came out for the 62nd annual parade organized by the Optimist Club of Dundalk. It began at 8: 30 a.m. in Logan Village, snaked two miles through Old Dundalk and came to an end around noon.

Music and roast pig

In the evening, hundreds of people lined Annapolis streets and cheered the U.S. Naval Academy band. Seven-year-old Morgan Schwartz of Philadelphia said she liked the band and the 10 classic cars in the lineup.

Nearby, about 200 people had dined on roasted pig, at $18 a plate, as the Charles Carroll House celebrated America's British heritage with a picnic.

Joyce Edmonston, assistant director of Carroll House, said the event marked Carroll's signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Diners were entertained by Ironweed, a Maryland band that plays traditional British music.

Band member Jody Marshall said the tunes were an appropriate way to celebrate America's birthday.

"Some tunes we think of as American are English," she said. "Some of those tunes were adapted by settlers and made into American tunes."

In Baltimore, people began to arrive at the Inner Harbor by late afternoon, anticipating the night's fireworks show.

"This is like tradition for us," said Karen Raymond, a North Baltimore resident who was with her husband, Tom, and their two toddlers, Erin and Erica.

"Tom and I used to come down here before we had children and enjoy the lights. Now I want Erin and Erica to get as much of a kick out of this as we always do."

Hoping for the balcony

Bands played and lines streamed out of the restaurants as people queued up for one of the coveted balcony seats.

Once the fireworks show began about 9: 30, there was barely standing room along the walkways. Nearby highways and roads, such as Interstate 83 and the ramps off Interstate 95, were jammed by drivers hoping to catch a view.

Small children, hoisted atop their parents' shoulders, young lovers and senior citizens relaxing in lawn chairs watched transfixed as a dizzying array of rainbow colors streaked through the sky over the harbor. In the background, patriotic tunes boomed through speakers.

Then, almost as quickly as it began, the fireworks ended and quiet patriotism melted away into impatient people pushing their way through the crowds. Car horns blared endlessly as traffic inched along Pratt Street.

Around the city and neighboring counties, other residents set off firecrackers, watched the fireworks, held cookouts in parks, hung out their flags, and dressed up in red, white and blue.

Laura Rollheiser had purchased stars-and-stripes sneakers to wear during her shift as a supervisor of the crew that cleans and loads Southwest Airlines planes at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

In Highlandtown, Rose Falls and her daughter, Tonya Ambrose, each bought $3 glittery Miss Liberty tiaras from a corner vendor.

Displayed on two mismatched tables were bags of confetti, top hats adorned with stars and stripes, and the tiaras being sold by Joe Blatterman, manager of the Eastern Party Outlet.

Every Independence Day for 10 years, the Little Italy native has sat on the corner, peddling store goods and bartering with drivers.

"Sometimes they'll wave and cheer at us. Other times they'll tell us to get a life," he said.

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