Families, fun on 4th

Holiday: Some celebrations were patriotic family affairs while others went a less-traditional route.

July 05, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

For decades, the "B-hive," as the Bellis family calls it, has been home to some of the most lively spectators along the mile-and-a-half route of Catonsville's annual Fourth of July parade.

Family members and friends come to 23 Bloomsbury Ave. from as far as Michigan and Tennessee to crowd the porch and front lawn and perform a patriotic duty: sing songs, cheer bands and collect candy from passing marchers.

Yesterday marked the last Independence Day celebration at the home of Catherine Bellis, the 89-year-old queen "B" of the clan, who is moving out after 67 years.

"It's going to be a disaster," said Cassie Gearhart, Bellis' daughter, pondering where the family will spend next year's Fourth. "We'll be lost. This is such a big to-do."

Said Nancy Bellis, Bellis' daughter-in-law: "We didn't want to see this day come."

America turned 224 yesterday, and festivities abounded. To each his own: While the Bellis family burst into a rendition of "Grand Old Flag," others took a less traditional approach to commemorating the anniversary of the nation's birth.

At PSINet Stadium, for instance, people celebrated with tailgate parties at the Summer Sanitarium concert, which featured big-name heavy metal bands. Some concertgoers wore stars-and-stripes bikinis or boxer shorts -- or flew American flags from their cars -- but Metallica T-shirts were far more common.

One group of fans drinking beer, smoking and shooting neon water guns at passing vehicles preferred their nontraditional celebration of America's independence.

"This is a hundred times better," said Jeannette Vasquet, 29, a teacher from Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. "Everyone's partying together and having a good time. It's not a lot of old people and five minutes of fireworks."

In an apparent accident during the concert, an unidentified man fell to his death from a walkway on the upper deck of the football stadium, police said.

Around the region, spectators waited for fireworks displays at the Inner Harbor, the U.S. Naval Academy, Fort Meade and Ocean City.

At the beach resort, officials were expecting more than 300,000 tourists over the long holiday weekend. Traffic on the Coastal Highway was heavier than usual yesterday and Sunday, police said, and parking was at a premium, with side streets all but full.

For those concerned about high gas prices, the short drive to the Eastern Shore wasn't a drain on the wallet. And with agreeable weather for swimming and sunbathing, the beach was packed, said Capt. Butch Arbin of the Beach Patrol.

Business was bustling in Ocean City, too. Mayor Jim N. Mathias said the new boardwalk drew substantial crowds.

In Bel Air, the annual Fourth of July parade returned to its small-town roots on Main Street after years of stomping along retail-riddled Baltimore National Pike.

John G. Hubble, 80, who has lived in Harford County since he was 6, remembered planning the Independence Day festivities along the once-rural Harford County roadway in the mid-1950s.

Until then, the parade was basically a military color guard inspiring patriotism along Main Street. A 1943 photo in the archives of the Historical Society of Harford County shows grim-faced soldiers marching in front of an equally somber crowd of spectators -- men in hats and sports coats; women in sedate shirtwaist dresses and two-tone high heels; and little boys in white T-shirts and long pants.

That first year, Hubble, manager of the now-defunct Hub department store, brought in a handful of homemade floats and bands on a budget of $444.

"At 5 p.m. in front of Town Hall, there was not a sign of a soul. I didn't think anyone would show up," he recalled. "At 6 p.m., all hell broke out. People showed up."

This year, the budget has grown to $18,000 for 28 floats, 21 bands and six equestrian units among other attractions.

At Fort Meade, children dragged their parents to an array of kiddie rides set up for MeadeFest behind the base's military museum. Vendors selling funnel cake and lemonade ringed the 70,000-square-foot makeshift carnival, while games and more-jolting rides -- such as the Tornado and the Scrambler -- attracted the older kids.

Base officials were expecting from 35,000 to 60,000 spectators for last night's fireworks show at McLaughlin Field, the grand finale of the four-day event.

"This is our third year coming here. The kids seem to enjoy it," said Becky R. Jackson of Laurel, who was waiting in line yesterday afternoon for the merry-go-round with her four children, ages 3 to 8, and her husband, David. "They have a good selection of kiddie rides. You don't see that often at carnivals."

Sasha L. Garcia and Amber N. Kent, both 13, were trying to throw a whiffle ball into a glass bowl at one of the game stations. One ball in meant a free hermit crab -- complete with a cage. Two balls on target meant a choice between that or a stuffed animal. Kent, who had won a fish Sunday at the next stand over, was trying to get the crab for her brother.

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