A fun Fourth, but some fireworks fizzle

Posted: July 04, 2007

From the banks of the Delaware River to the boards and beaches at the Jersey Shore and the flag-bedecked grounds outside Independence Hall, the Fourth of July was toasted with parties and parades aplenty - and with ceremonies marking the historic quest for freedom.

The big bang of the holiday - evening fireworks - was postponed until Friday or over the weekend in many communities, from Radnor to Ocean City, N.J., because of the rain and the threat of significant storms.

In Philadelphia, people gathered for several hours on the Parkway for a parade and concert were told at 10:45 p.m. to go home and not wait for fireworks because of the rain and the threat of lightning. But about 20 minutes later, officials announced that the fireworks display would still be held.

And, as a reward for those for waited, Philadelphia's fireworks display started at 11:20 p.m.

Earlier, Mayor Street invoked the importance of liberty at the city's annual ceremony outside Independence Hall, and there was bell-ringing at the Betsy Ross House. In Ocean City, the annual South End Bike Parade drew several hundred participants on bicycles, tricycles, Big Wheels, scooters and wagons draped with bunting, flags, glitter stars and tinsel - while hundreds cheered along the way.

And at Washington Crossing Historic Park in Bucks County, a crowd turned out to watch old-fashioned musket-firing and militia-drilling, and to hear the Declaration of Independence recited by a town crier in colonial garb.

But across the region, the dress of the day was more sweatshirt than bathing suit - thanks to a cool and cloudy day, and the threat of thundershowers well into the night. The chill left beaches fairly empty in Ocean City, but business was brisk along the boardwalk.

Even so, many said it was nice to have a Fourth of July that was not sweltering.

"Not a bad day," said Fred Czupich, visitor-services coordinator at the Fonthill Museum in Doylestown, where a celebration drew about 2,000 people in spite of the weather.

Later, along the Parkway in Philadelphia, thousands turned out in the rain for the Sweet Sounds of Liberty Concert and Fireworks, featuring Hall and Oates and the Philadelphia Boys Choir.

Though the Parkway crowd was a little thinner than in some years, thousands refused to be scared off by the downpour or even by the threat of tornadoes.

"I've been coming here for more than 20 years," said Southwest Philadelphia resident Wendy Gines, who had brought her two grandchildren. "It will take more than a little weather to keep us away."

When the rain began about 8:15 p.m., people raced for shelter wherever they could find it - beneath umbrellas, trees, and the eaves of the Rodin Museum.

Some - like Temple University dental student John Green - were covered head to toe in colorful collegiate ponchos purchased from an enterprising vendor.

"It's all about creating memories," Green said when told of the National Weather Service's tornado warning.

Earlier in the day, at Washington Crossing, it was - no surprise - all about history. Costumed Revolutionary soldiers and officers mingled with visitors to mark the memory of the battle for independence.

Jeff Flick, 41, a computer-security specialist from Middlesex County, N.J., said his ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, so he and his family like to mark the holiday by attending patriotic events.

Flick said the emphasis on history underscored how long-ago battles paved the way for what the young nation would become. "This is how we got to be who we are today," he said.

Russell and Deborah Diehl, who live in Washington Crossing, said they were frequent visitors to the park, which marks the site of the famous Christmas crossing of the Delaware River by George Washington and his troops before the Battle of Trenton.

"It's nice to just kind of reflect back that there was a struggle that took place that gave us what we have today," said Russell Diehl. "It's important to reflect."

In Ocean City, hundreds of people gathered along the route of the 55th annual bike parade - a quintessential part of the Independence Day celebration at the Shore community.

"It just wouldn't be the Fourth without the bike parade," said grand marshal Mark Soifer, 75, the legendary Ocean City promoter who created the Miss Crustacean (hermit crab) and Weird Week contests, in which people compete in events such as taffy sculpting and pie eating.

Later, there was a kite contest with an evening concert scheduled on the Music Pier and fireworks to be set off from a barge off the beach.

Another July Fourth come and gone; now, bring on the rest of summer.

Contact staff writer Emilie Lounsberry at 215-854-4828 or elounsberry@phillynews.com.

Staff writers Thomas Fitzgerald and Patrick Kerkstra contributed to this article.

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