An eve for everyone

Celebrating: Music, 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 traditional celebrations in Baltimore and Annapolis to area religious services.

In Baltimore, organizers of the city's annual midnight fireworks extravaganza at the Inner Harbor expected a crowd of more than 100,000, betting that the mild New Year's Eve weather -- temperatures in the 40s as opposed to the bone-chilling winds of celebrations past -- would boost turnout.

But the stage for 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 was 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.

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.

Hundreds flowed into St. Ignatius Church on Calvert Street for its 10th annual interfaith service last night. Representatives of Islam and Judaism attended, as well as members of the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity.

"It's very interfaith; we've got them all," said the Rev. Bill Watters, pastor of the parish.

Mayor Martin O'Malley was expected to attend for the third straight year and end the hourlong service with a "special prayer for Baltimore."

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.

"This is the best turnout we've had for the early part of the program, by far," said Charles Shubin, a Baltimore pediatrician who has volunteered at the event for the past nine years. "It gives the kids a chance to celebrate, too. If you have kids, what else are you going to do on New Year's Eve?"

The Ferry family of Philadelphia discovered First Night three years ago in Ocean City, N.J. Since then, they've planned their vacations around the events, visiting a different city's First Night celebration each year. For last New Year's Eve, they went to Boston -- the city that started the tradition 26 years ago. This time around, they chose Annapolis, capping off a week of touring with fireworks at City Dock.

"We're trying to show the kids that you can have a good time without alcohol," Mary Kate Ferry said. "Here there's a lot of concentration on the children, which is exactly what we're looking for."

The O'Boyle family of Severna Park agreed.

"It's wild and sober and there are lots of lights. It offers something for everyone," Christina O'Boyle said as the family shimmied to the zydeco tunes.

While 12-year-old Kahly O'Boyle hadn't decided on a New Year's resolution yet, her brother Mike, 14, already had one: to "rock Maryland" with his guitar playing.

First Night might be family-friendly, but it isn't just for kids. As vendors readied their party string and folding tables full of coffee and hot dogs, Christina Kotova and her boyfriend, Mike Davidson, both 25, enjoyed a warm evening under a brilliant sunset. Davidson, who recently moved to Baltimore from England, says he likes Annapolis because it reminds him of home.

"This is a good attraction for the [artsy] type," Kotova said of the entertainment offered at the event. "We'll probably be here all night."

One of the oddest New Year's Eve activities had to be the midnight picnic scheduled for the Woodberry forest, near Television Hill in North Baltimore. Organizers sent invitations urging those interested to meet at 11:30 with food and wine.

But the point was not just to go off into the woods to welcome 2003. It was to make a political statement about Loyola College's plan to build athletic fields on the mostly city-owned land.

"A lot of people feel we were defeated," said opposition leader Myles Hoenig, referring to a City Council vote in June favoring Loyola.

"We want to show there is still life left in us," he said. The city's Board of Estimates has yet to approve the deal.

Hoenig, who lives in Waverly, conceded it's an uphill battle because O'Malley, who supports Loyola, controls three of the board's five votes. But Hoenig hardly speaks for everyone; the college and Woodberry Planning Group agreed in July to end the dispute.

This was to be the third midnight picnic in Woodberry but the first time planners have pushed for a larger turnout. Hoenig wasn't sure what to expect. "From three to 20 to 100 -- who knows," he said. "How many people would actually show up to a midnight picnic?"

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