Throughout City, Festivities Flowed Hour By Hour Philadelphians Spent The Day Participating Mostly In Planned Events. Organizers Of Millennium Philadelphia Were Pleased With The Turnout.

Posted: January 01, 2000

With a spectacular burst of fireworks above the Delaware River, Philadelphia said farewell to 1999 with a citywide party for the ages last night.

The city celebrated the arrival of the year 2000 with a 24-hour festival marked by parades, parties and music for everyone. Nearing midnight, streets near Penn's Landing were jammed with more than 300,000 revelers waiting for the biggest fireworks show in the city's history.

They were not disappointed. Showers of red fireworks rained down from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Geysers and starbursts of sizzling color exploded over the Delaware River.

"It's been just like a fairy tale all day long," said Tenisha da Costa, 30, a hair dresser from Philadelphia who took part in a mass wedding at the Convention Center yesterday afternoon and was still there, dancing, at midnight. "I'm so happy. It's the best day of my life."

The 24-hour celebration kicked off at 7:15 a.m. yesterday with 2,000 people recreating Rocky Balboa's famous run up the Art Museum steps. It included colonial reenactors and dancers doing the Bunny Hop; the mass wedding for 645 couples at the Convention Center; and a mass planting of 2,000 seedlings at the Horticultural Center in Fairmount Park.

A ringing Liberty Bell replica toured the neighborhoods and a time capsule assembled at the Franklin Institute was saved for the next millennium.

Children paraded in the morning at the Academy of Natural Sciences in costumes from past and future centuries, while grown-ups paraded after dark through Old City with glow-sticks and giant puppets.

At the Academy of Music, the Philadelphia Orchestra performed to a sell-out crowd. The finale, Auld Lang Syne, was broadcast live at Penn's Landing so that crowds there could hear it as they watched the fireworks. The academy crowd, meanwhile, saw the fireworks on TV screens mounted on the stage.

With events stretching from Fairmount Park to Penn's Landing, the celebration was set to continue through the night - until the Mummers strutted up Market Street at 6 this morning.

As midnight approached, the city shimmered and glowed with flashlights, floodlights, old-fashioned sparklers and futuristic lasers. City Hall and bridges over the Schuylkill were illuminated with permanent new lights. Red and green lasers bounced off buildings along South Broad Street to music by Elvis and the Beach Boys.

Police reported no disturbances or arrests related to the New Year's festivities.

Although organizers of the $5-million Millennium Philadelphia celebration were pleased with the turnout, the revelry seemed contained to planned events. The mood in many neighborhoods was generally subdued.

Traffic throughout the city was light in the early evening. This worried cab driver Raj Kumar, who said business was down severely from past New Year's.

"I'm afraid a lot of people are staying home," said Kumar, of Delaware County.

Fears about Y2K problems may have kept some people away from the city. Portia Kamara, 37, of West Philadelphia, said she was a little hesitant about venturing out on New Year's Eve. But in the end, she decided to take her children, Jamillia, 11, and Gore, 7, into the city for some early events.

They stopped at the Convention Center at 5 p.m., where a big-screen television showed scenes of the New Year from around the world. As dancers in Grecian costumes performed on stage, the family watched a live broadcast from the Acropolis in Athens.

"We thought it would be better to go out and see the city than be fearful and barricaded," Kamara said.

True to form, Mayor Rendell was all over the place. One minute, he was officiating at the mass wedding with his wife, U.S. Circuit Judge Midge Rendell; later, he was singing a karaoke rendition of "My Girl" at the African American Historical and Cultural Museum.

Security throughout the day was tight, with guards inspecting bags carried by people entering the Convention Center and extra police patrolling Penn's Landing.

Some Center City merchants closed early. Two Gap stores at Fifth and South Streets were taking no chances. Around 5 p.m., the stores had workmen put up plywood to protect large plate-glass windows.

Center City restaurants were busy. On Walnut Street, tuxedoed men and women in gowns exited luxury sedans and headed into some of the city's toniest restaurants.

Outside Le Bec Fin, owner and chef George Perrier greeted guests with hugs and kisses while shivering in shirt sleeves and an apron. Across the street at Circa, lead cook Timothy Hughes grilled hamburgers and hotdogs as complimentary snacks for folks walking by.

The first event of the day - the Rocky Run - was timed to coincide with the dawning of the New Year in the western Pacific. Under a pale gray sky, would-be Rockys in city-issued uniforms of gray sweats, blue hats and white neck towels warmed up as the Rocky theme blasted over the sound system.

Along with serious athletes were runners who said they were drawn by the lunacy of getting up early in the morning to imitate Rocky along with 1,999 other people.

"It's just a Philadelphia thing," said Richard Cahoone, of West Chester, who drove in with his wife Linda yesterday. "It's something that makes no sense. That's why I like Philly."

Frank and Elaine Deeney, of Springfield, Delaware County, started the day with the Rocky Run and were still going strong 14 hours later as they took in the decorative lights hanging from trees at Rittenhouse Square.

After participating in the mass stair climb, the Deeneys moved on to the Convention Center, where their son's friends had gotten in the mass ceremony. After that, they were off to Veterans Stadium for the "Philadelphia 2000" light show - where a crowd held flashlights to form those two words - and then to the old-style fireworks display at Rittenhouse Square.

The couple, both 52, said they hoped to be awake for one of the final events - a 5 a.m. scrapple breakfast at the Convention Center. Both Deeneys grew up in West Philadelphia. They said the New Year's events brought back good memories of having grown up in the city.

"I don't want to think of going home," said Elaine Deeney.

Woven into yesterday's round-the-clock celebration were events intended to be thought-provoking and educational.

At Carpenters Hall at 1 p.m., where the First Continental Congress met in 1774, three law professors and three actors playing colonial personalities - George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson - discussed the impact of the Constitution on American life through two centuries.

A few blocks away, meanwhile, a parade of women in white and men in tuxedos hurried into the Convention Center. The event had been billed as a wedding for 2,000 people, but 1,290 people actually appeared and said, "I do." Many couples who had registered didn't show up, apparently suffering from cold feet.

The center's Grand Hall twinkled with the flash of disposable cameras. Limousines jammed the streets around the Convention Center. From the top of a grand marble staircase, Rendell and his wife officiated.

One of the last couples to take their places were Alma Pernell and Herman Hall Sr. from West Philadelphia. Dressed in an off-the-shoulder white wedding dress with a six-foot train, Pernell wore a scowl. The groom had forgotten the rings. They were 15 minutes late for the ceremony as they waited for the best man to fetch the rings.

"I'm fixing to leave him," Pernell said, pursing her lips and shaking her head before she scrambled up the escalator with her bundled train in one hand and bouquet in the other.

When Rendell told the couples to exchange rings, Hall patted his pockets in mock confusion. Pernell stared daggers at him.

Then the ice began to melt. "I do," he said. "I do," she said. They smiled and nuzzled.

* Inquirer Staff Writers Michael Matza, Karen Quinones Miller and L. Stuart Ditzen contributed to this report.

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