At the stroke of midnight, the sky exploded and thousands in Baltimore's Inner Harbor looked up as a dazzling fireworks spectacle, the largest in the state's history, played across a clear, winter sky.
At last, Y2K was here.
Sky rockets streamed into the air from barges. The bells of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen rang in North Baltimore. All across Maryland, people celebrated the turn from 1999 to 2000.
Lights from the office windows at 1 E. Pratt in downtown Baltimore were arranged to form the numerals 2000. In Annapolis, a self-proclaimed "marriage meister" spread joy.
Somewhere along the way, the hype and the concerns that Y2K would bring computer failures and technological disaster dissipated like a bad dream. As the clock turned closer to midnight, people seemed to understand the world would survive. Last night and early this morning were times for fun.
"It's a new mayor; it's a new millennium," Ivo Jamrosz said, during the revelry of a street party in the 800 block of William Street in Baltimore's Federal Hill neighborhood. "You can live in the city, have a tent set up. You can feel very comfortable having 200 or 300 friends come over."
Around 10 p.m., the Millennium MasqueParade stepped off along Pratt Street, the Dulaney High School marching band taking the lead. Those in the parade donned imaginative costumes. Some were insects. Others dressed as one of the four elements: earth, fire, water and air. Someone depicted water by wearing a fish costume. Tom Ogle looked on from the sidewalk, where a crowd 10-deep lined the parade route.
"It almost reminds me of New Orleans," said Ogle, who is from Montgomery County.
Some chose the night for introspection and reflection. At Bon Secours Spiritual Center, people walked the labyrinth in prayerful meditation. Elsewhere, Watch Night services and ecumenical observances brought together different denominations. At the Inner Harbor, visitors posted their hopes and expectations for the year on a Stonehenge-like futuristic sculpture at Light and Pratt streets.
Kari Thomas, 6, of Catonsville left this note on behalf of her family: "We hope for a happy 2000. Peace, joy, happiness, an end to hunger."
In Catonsville, Dave and Marguerite Hollingsworth opened their home to about 150 friends and family. The New Year's Eve party is a Hollingsworth tradition, one that has been going on for the past 19 years.
"It feels like a family reunion when you come here," said Joe White, Dave Hollingsworth's brother-in-law.
In Annapolis, 13 couples tied the knot at the Anne Arundel County Courthouse, where Clerk of Court Robert Duckworth presided over weddings for the first time on New Year's Eve.
"I like to spread joy," he said. "They call me the marriage-meister."
For Crystal Mullins and her fiance, William Minor, it was the end of a long wait. They had put off their wedding for nine years, just so they could say "I Do" at the stroke of 2000.
"We wanted to do something different," said Mullins, a 27-year-old program analyst from Annapolis. "I was the first to sign up. I thought it would be neat for my grandchildren."
John Hamrick Sr., 33, and Brooke Massey, 32, both of Severn, were also among the newlyweds. "We were planning on getting married in January," said Hamrick, "... and we thought it would be pretty neat [to do it on New Year's Eve]."
The couple were clad in warm-up suits, both in black pants, her in a red top and him in a blue top, because they met playing indoor soccer three years ago. They were on different teams.
"He knocked me down and then came back and picked me up. It was from that moment on, because his friend said he didn't pick anyone else up," Massey said.
Shortly after the ceremony ended, a cell phone rang.
"I guess the world hasn't blown up after all," said Duckworth to the laughter of couples, families and friends.
The city's annual First Night celebration transformed the state capital's churches, storefronts, courtrooms and government hearing rooms into performance venues.
Festival of Faith, a gospel choir of 40 from Mount Olive A.M.E. Church in Annapolis, opened the evening with song and crashing cymbals in the staid old St. Anne's Episcopal Church.
"Don't look at this as a concert," said Harold Sims, the choir's director. "If you hear a hymn you're familiar with, don't be afraid to sing along. If your foot gets to tapping, well, you can't cut a rug in here but you can cut a tile."
Twenty-five miles to the north, a small crowd swirled and stomped through rousing polkas at the Polish Home club in East Baltimore. The Joy Trio of Maryland -- two accordions and a drummer -- provided the music from a stage decorated with a Christmas Tree and a Polish Eagle. A portrait of Pope John Paul II graced the wall at the far end of the hall.
"The people you see here are all dedicated Polish Home members -- for the last 50 years," said Steve Lesnieski, one of the band's accordionists.