An eve for everyone

Celebrating: Fireworks, worship and chocolate milk all have a part in Maryland's welcome for 2003.

January 01, 2003|By Johnathon E. Briggs, Scott Calvert and Rona Kobell | Johnathon E. Briggs, Scott Calvert and Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of thousands of Marylanders welcomed 2003 with revelry and reflection last night, from fireworks-filled festivities in Baltimore and Annapolis to area religious services with prayers for peace and unity.

Bill Gilmore, executive director of Baltimore Promotion and the Arts, said that last night's crowd at the city's annual midnight fireworks extravaganza was back to pre-Sept. 11 numbers, well over 100,000, and the crowd arrived earlier than usual.

"We have Mother Nature to thank for that," he said.

Temperatures in the 40s last night were far more spectator-friendly than last year's 8-degree temperature.

Among the throng at the Inner Harbor were Travis Phillips, 22, and Leanne Mayne, 20, of Frederick.

A year ago, the couple spent New Year's Eve in Washington, which they said turned out to be a disappointment.

"Everyone said we should have been here in Baltimore," said Phillips, a Navy ensign who is in flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Mayne said they had arrived early, had eaten at Phillips Harborplace Restaurant and were having a great time enjoying the free music and fireworks. "Thank you, Baltimore," she said.

"We're never wasting our time in D.C. again," said Phillips, who sported a neon blue hat that said Happy New Year.

Last night's 18-minute fireworks show was overseen by veteran pyrotechnician Luther Horine of Zambelli Fireworks. Shells were shot skyward from two barges. The main one was moored near Domino Sugar, and a smaller barge, from which "low levels" were shot, was parked in the Inner Harbor basin, not far from the Constellation.

Though some fireworks displays are computerized, these were detonated by electric charges from a 12-volt power pack. Horine launched each shell himself, timed to coincide with a soundtrack that included music from the Broadway hit Hairspray.

The show included star shells, green flashing lights, strobe shells, crown-shaped brocade shells and what fireworks experts call "break and report" because of a delayed boom. The highest-flying ones can reach 1,200 feet, Horine said.

But the stage for the celebration downtown had been set well before 12 -- noon, that is.

Port Discovery children's museum held its fifth annual free New Year's bash for hundreds of little revelers who were unlikely to see midnight.

The party included a raucous late-morning countdown to 12 o'clock. Then the lobby was filled with confetti and the rattle of homemade noisemakers -- film canisters with dried beans. The kids toasted the "new year" by sipping (mostly chocolate) milk through straws and nibbling on animal crackers.

"This w as wild," said 9-year-old Allie Ryan, whose family traveled from Dallas to see relatives in Hampstead.

Molly Whalen of Kent Island got a special treat. The 5-year-old, sporting purple frames and missing one tooth, was picked to hold the cardboard cutout for the number 2 during the countdown. "Cool," she summed up succinctly.

No one seemed to mind that the countdown came five minutes too soon, at 11:55 a.m.

The museum holds the yearly event not only so children can be part of a celebration but so families can have fun without spending money, said marketing director Michelle Winner.

And for some weary parents, it was likely to be their only shot at seeing the clock strike 12 on New Year's Eve. "I'm going to be like him," said Anne Fink of Carney, pointing to 3-year-old Ian.

`We form one people'

By evening more than 500 people filled the pews of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church on Calvert Street for its 10th annual interfaith service, where Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders spoke of peace and love.

"Stretch out your hands tonight, Lord, and cover the city, cover the world," said Naomi C. DuRant, archbishop of New Refuge Deliverance Cathedral, during a rousing final prayer in which she alluded to uncertain world events. "Let peace consume our entire city and do not let incidents occur that will trouble our spirits."

Mayor Martin O'Malley attended the service for the third straight year and prayed on behalf of the city.

"Tonight, in unity, we form one people," the mayor said. "May we now raise up to you, O God, this city and its people to seek your blessings upon us for the coming year 2003."

1,000 city officers

To keep peace in the city, Baltimore police Col. Robert Stanton said about 1,000 officers had been deployed to crack down on gun-toting revelers who ring in the new year by firing shots into the air.

In 2001, city police confiscated 113 weapons and arrested 99 people on firearms-related charges between 7 p.m. New Year's Eve and the early hours of New Year's Day.

In Annapolis, organizers of the state capital's 12th First Night Annapolis event infused the Naval Academy's Halsey Fieldhouse Arena with more than a little bit of New Orleans-style Mardi Gras.

Hours before midnight, a masked woman on stilts directed young revelers inside, where a moon bounce and face-painting kept them busy, while their parents swayed to the accordion-accented tunes of Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas.

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