Security and spirits are high for New Year's

Baltimore's Inner Harbor filled with police, revelers

January 01, 2004|By Lynn Anderson and Molly Knight | Lynn Anderson and Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

They forgot about the Orange Alert and put aside anxiety about Iraq.

Marylanders put on party frocks and pressed suits to welcome the New Year in a variety of places and settings last night - from an Annapolis pub to Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Celebrants included a Fells Point couple throwing a black tie affair and a more solemn church service with cantors and a choir.

Thousands enjoyed a relatively mild evening at the Inner Harbor - temperatures remained in the mid-30s - as they watched fireworks, skated in Fells Point and listened to an Elton John tribute show.

But there were reminders of the security alert everywhere.

Dozens of uniformed police officers roamed the harbor pavilion, and an unspecified number of officers in plainclothes mingled with the crowd. A police command trailer with flashing blue lights was parked near the Inner Harbor amphitheater; a police helicopter circled overhead periodically; police patrol boats criss-crossed the harbor.

But the police presence did not dampen spirits.

Sara and Doug Armour, wearing flashing "2004" pendants, came to the Inner Harbor from their home in Rockville, Montgomery County, to see the fireworks and party. They said the added security made them feel at ease.

"We were worried [about security] until we got here and saw all of the police officers, and we decided this was the place for us," said Doug Armour.

Flavio and Teresa Pires, both 48, of Alexandria, Va., said they were excited about ringing in the new year in Baltimore.

"It's wonderful," said Teresa Pires. "I love to see the fireworks. It's exciting. The people are very happy. They are beautiful people."

For some, the New Year was reason for prayer and song and a heartfelt wish for peace.

St. Ignatius Church in Baltimore was the site of an interfaith prayer celebration on New Year's Eve. The ceremony opened with songs of faith by Jewish cantors, a choir and gospel artist. Later, there were blessings, prayers and a sermon.

Participants, including Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, offered thanks for the year that was and blessings for the year to come. The ceremony also offered a unified vision of the city, as priests, pastors and rabbis from diverse neighborhoods gathered to celebrate.

"We give praise and thanks to you, O God, for this great city of Baltimore: its people, its neighborhoods, its harbor and parks, its institutions and businesses, its long and glorious history," said O'Malley. "Finally, we place ourselves and our whole city under your constant care and protection. Amen."

In the state capital, the celebrations started early. By early afternoon, the streets of downtown Annapolis were teeming with revelers, many of whom flocked to the city for First Night, the town's annual New Year's Eve celebration.

First Night began in the afternoon with First Act, a family oriented event at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

Swarming with families, the building housed a wide choice of activities for children, from face painting and juggling classes to storytelling and music.

After watching a Russian circus leader dance with two toy poodles, Arnold resident Keith Tiedke thanked the city of Annapolis for organizing the non-alcoholic event.

"I think this is terrific," said Tiedke, with his 4-year-old son perched on his shoulders. "If this were not happening, the kids would be out in the street playing. This way, we get to keep our eyes on them."

The size of the crowds at First Night created problems. By 5 p.m., Maryland Hall for the Arts - a new venue for the event - was so crammed with people that organizers began to turn away families and busloads of First Night visitors.

"We've reached capacity," Executive Director Jennifer Krammes shouted into a walkie-talkie as more than 150 people - many of them squirming children - waited to be admitted.

Veteran First Night attendees avoided the crowds by stopping off at the Ram's Head pub on West Street. Although First Night is a nonalcoholic event, some participants had a few celebratory drinks before hitting the attractions.

"We start here with a few pints, and then we'll work our way around," said Steve Redhead, easing into a table at the Ram's Head with his wife, Mary McKenna, and 10-year-old daughter, Alice.

Others planned to celebrate the New Year at Annapolis harbor, with a front-row view of the fireworks at midnight.

Decorating the masts of her yacht with strings of lights, Christmas trees and greens, Annapolis resident Laurie Rowley prepared for the 30 guests she had invited to ring in the New Year.

"The restaurants and bars always get so crowded here, so this year we invited everyone here," said Rowley, standing over two cases of Korbell.

Last night, many Marylanders seemed consumed with party planning.

At the Fells Point home of Dolores Deluxe and her husband, Vincent Peranio - she is a designer and he is a production designer who has worked with film director John Waters - the soiree preparations included last-minute Windex-ing and exotic floral arrangements.

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