`Old-fashioned and loud'

Havre de Grace: A temperature of 103 couldn't wilt enthusiasm for this town's Fourth of July parade, known for its homespun -- and patriotic -- flavor.

July 05, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

HAVRE DE GRACE -- They sat and they cheered for hours, waving miniature American flags and singing patriotic songs in accompaniment to the marching bands.

Some spent days finding a sacred space for their lawn chairs on the sidewalks of Union Street, angling for the best view of the annual Independence Day parade.

Not even the sweltering heat that reached 103 degrees yesterday could keep residents away from a parade that is a tradition in this historic Harford County town that hugs the Susquehanna River.

"We have the best celebration in the state of Maryland," Mayor Phil J. Barker proudly proclaimed. "I'd also be willing to say that we have the best celebration in the country."

Across the state, from Ocean City to Oakland, similar boasts were made as Marylanders turned out to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence 223 years ago with parades, picnics and fireworks.

In Baltimore, tens of thousands of people flocked to the Inner Harbor to watch the skies lighted by a fancy fireworks display.

But Havre de Grace residents say that what they have is different: hometown spirit coupled with a heavy dose of patriotism.

That seemed clear, as the town went all out -- thousands of people lining 13 blocks of the main street -- to celebrate America's birthday. So determined were they to have this parade that residents pitched in to help offset the $55,000 cost of the celebration.

"We in Havre de Grace like to celebrate this holiday so much because it gives us a chance to show how much we love our country," said Noble Mentzer, who has lived here all but one of his 71 years. "I've been all around the world, and there ain't no other place that I would want to live."

As children licked snowballs, and as hot dogs and Italian sausages roasted on grills, gigantic floats and antique cars carrying the likes of U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and his wife, Christine, and Harford County Executive James M. Harkins made their way down Union Street.

Area marching bands, decked in colorful regalia, followed the cars and floats. Then came the 229th Maryland Army National Guard Band, stepping in unison and propelling the crowd to its feet, in a salute to the nation's military men and women and veterans.

"This is really what the holiday is all about," said John Rubin, 43, another resident. "It's our chance to pay homage and respect to those who are willing to put their lives on the line to preserve American democracy and freedom."

Neighbors reunited with former residents who find their way back each year for the festivities, bringing their children, who seemed in awe of riders on horseback and of the firetrucks and state police cars blasting their sirens.

"Hey, I think this is so cool," said 7-year-old Amanda Sharp of Baltimore, who came with her parents, Karen and Ronald Sharp, to see what Havre de Grace had to offer.

"We got tired of going to the [Inner] Harbor every year," her father said. "We wanted something different this year, and we heard that this was the place to come, so here we are."

Linda Boyd, 55, makes the trek from her Florida home to Havre de Grace every July Fourth to visit her daughter and two grandchildren.

"This is the way a parade should be -- old-fashioned and loud," Boyd said. "We like it that way."

Lacy and Bill Rutherford, who recently moved to Havre de Grace from Baltimore County, were determined to make it to the parade this year.

"This is like Hometown USA," said Lacy Rutherford. "When I think of Havre de Grace, especially on July Fourth, I visualize the 1940s and '50s."

Like other towns and cities, Havre de Grace has its problems, too, police say. But they were not apparent yesterday.

"On this day everything seems to go away," said Lt. Anne M. Todd of the Havre de Grace Police Department. "It's just a big festival that everyone comes to just to have fun."

City officials and veterans also dedicated a memorial exhibit at the Susquehanna Museum of Havre de Grace to the 232 Harford County residents who died in World Wars I and II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The exhibit also pays tribute to the late Millard E. Tydings, a former soldier and U.S. senator from Maryland who hailed from Havre de Grace.

"It's very important that we remember the ultimate sacrifice that these soldiers gave to their country," said Ray Astor, 76, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. "We want to remember and honor their service."

Pub Date: 7/05/99

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