Phila. celebrates the nation's birthday

Fireworks end the concert, "a gorgeous night to be out celebrating the Fourth of July," a weatherman said.
Fireworks end the concert, "a gorgeous night to be out celebrating the Fourth of July," a weatherman said. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 06, 2013

While the masses around her jockeyed for shaded spots, Ashley Cornelius sprawled face up on a blanket in a sun-drenched patch of grass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, oblivious to the 90-degree heat.

"We thought about the shade and we said, we can see the Art Museum and we can see the stage perfectly. So we'll suffer in the sun," said Cornelius, 26, who came from Conshohocken with friends.

Cornelius was among hundreds of thousands of people who turned out for the city's annual Fourth of July celebration, partaking of games, performances, freebies, and delectables. They immersed themselves in history; walked about in red, white, and blue garb; and mingled with friends and strangers.

Unlike last year, when the event was marred by three shootings, all was quiet this year as the evening wound down. A massive police presence was visible, with scores of officers in neon yellow vests on bikes and on foot.

"Should anyone come out here with ill intent, we want them to look around and to realize that would be a bad idea," said Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan, a 30-year veteran of the force.

The Wawa Welcome America event was topped off with a 7 p.m. concert featuring performers including John Mayer, the Roots, and Jill Scott, followed by fireworks that ended shortly after 11 p.m.

By the concert's start, Eakins Oval had become impassable as the crowd grew enormously with the music's approach.

Mayor Nutter, who appeared at events throughout the day, welcomed everyone and said the city expected one million people to have visited by week's end.

"We own the Fourth of July," he said.

The temperature peaked at 90 at 5 p.m., made worse by suffocating humidity. Conditions improved after the sun went down, with the temperature dropping into the low to mid-80s with a light breeze.

"A gorgeous night to be out celebrating the Fourth of July," said Walter Drag, the National Weather Service meteorologist on duty in Mount Holly.

Spectators came from near and far - by car and on foot, by bike and on skateboard.

Maurice Bussey, 48, an auto detailer from Southwest Philadelphia, rode his bike, as he does every year. He was to meet up with a group of friends, ride a little, and watch the fireworks on the bridge near the Art Museum.

"I get my exercise and I get to see the fireworks," said Bussey, wearing cycling gear.

Raissa Dorff, an actress from New York, strolled toward the Parkway holding her sister Mimi's hand.

"This is so fun," said Dorff, who said she had not been to Philadelphia for the fireworks since the Bicentennial. "It's good to be back in Philly."

"She loves fireworks, and her birthday's on the Fifth," Raissa Dorff said of her sister.

Ronda Sanders, 44, a management assistant, and Charlotte Cobb, 45, also in business management, set up on the Parkway in folding chairs with hoods to keep the sun off.

"I love the fireworks, the performers, and the free stuff," Sanders said, noting that she scored a Welcome America hat, Tastykakes, pretzels, and gummy bears.

Wawa planned to give away more than 30,000 servings of juices and iced tea throughout the day.

Seth Good, 12, came to game. He stepped up to shoot a single shot at a basketball hoop set up by PNC Bank at 22d Street. He released with a high, strong arc, but the ball stuck between the left side of the backboard and the rim.

That was the only ball, and most staff couldn't reach it. One threw a water bottle. A second threw a football. A third fetched a ladder and finally dislodged it - into the hoop, no less. Success!

But Seth wanted another shot.

"I don't know if I want to give you one," another staff member joked.

Performers gave their all despite the heat. About 10 women in bright-pink scarves and gold hoop bracelets shook their hips "the Bollywood way."

The dance was inspired by Holi, an Indian festival where friends and family cover each other in colored powder, said Swati Chaturvedi, founder of Community Bollywood Dance Project.

Fuchsia and rich purple powder tinted the women's faces, which glistened with sweat as they danced.

Earlier in the day, long lines of visitors snaked around the Liberty Bell Center to see the icon. Eight descendants of six of the signers of the Declaration of Independence joined two young brothers who had become U.S. citizens earlier in the day and donned white gloves for the annual bell-tapping ceremony.

A multinational crowd looked on and raised cameras and cellphones above their heads to record the moment. The designated tappers lightly rapped on the bell 13 times in recognition of the 13 colonies that broke free to create a new nation, and the bell atop Independence Hall rang.

Mayor Nutter earlier said the ceremony sponsored by the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration and the Sons of the American Revolution was tied directly to the Declaration itself.

"By tapping, we affirm the principles," he said.

"Awesome," gushed a young woman as she left the building.

Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or, or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq.

Inquirer staff writers Theodore Schleifer, Summer Ballentine, and Sarah Smith contributed to this article.

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