- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2000

The last Fourth of July of this millenium went off without a hitch yesterday in the nation's capital.

Sgt. Dennis Maroney, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, said people were behaving well even though the crowd, estimated to be a half-million strong, was one of the largest assembled on the Mall for the Fourth of July festival.

The fireworks went off as scheduled, many visitors watching them to patriotic music played by the National Symphony Orchestra.

Ruth Harrier and her fiance, Gilbert Lopez, drove 2,100 miles from McAllen, Texas, just for the Fourth of July activities. They were impressed with what they saw.

"If you think historically, gunpowder was used to kill people. Now the gunpowder is used to entertain," Miss Herrera said. "I feel like a little kid I keep telling Gilbert to pinch me I just can't believe I'm here."

With 250 Park Police and more than 60 park rangers patrolling the Mall, security was tight and authorities were vigilant about cracking down on drinking and unruly behavior, Sgt. Maroney said.

"We've had a fairly large crowd, but so far the only real problems have been heat exhaustion," said Sgt. Maroney, noting that volunteers were riding around the Mall on bikes handing out water and looking for people who were having trouble in the heat.

Others found help at several first-aid stations set up along the Mall, he said.

Shunda Yates, a National Park Service representative, said emergency stations were, thankfully, underused.

"This year has been very slow," said Miss Yates, a native Washingtonian. "It's not as hot as last year. People have been [drinking] as much as they can." There's been blisters and cuts but no major cases of injury.

D.C. police said no major incidents were reported.

At 11 p.m. nearly 518,000 people had ridden the subway, a 1 percent increase over last year's tally.

"So far, so good," Metro spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson said in the early evening. "There have been some delays here and there." The gaffes included minor problems with escalators and longer-than-expected wait times for trains.

Don Carr and his family traveled from Louisiana to sightsee and watch the fireworks. While enjoying the monuments, their most pleasant surprise, Mr. Carr said, was the Metro police.

"[Transit police] won't give you the time of day in New Orleans, but they are very respectful and helpful here," said Mr. Carr, chief financial officer for a small corporation in Marlborough, La. "They could just think we were pesky tourists, which basically we are, we're a pest, but everyone has been great."

One of the factors contributing to the larger crowds may have been the weather.

"It was hotter and more humid last year," Miss Johnson said. "The weather plays a big factor as to whether people go down to the Mall."

Yesterday's highs were in the low 90s with partly cloudy skies and not a drop of rain. Last year's celebration saw the mercury soar to 102 degrees.

And while a majority of visitors came to see the monuments and fireworks, a small group of D.C. residents was there to show another side of the nation's capital. "Washington D.C. It's Our Home" brought together historians, quilt makers, restorers and bands.

Patrick Plunkett, the superintendent of stone restoration at the White House, brought his tools and samples of his stone carvings to demonstrate how his team refurbished the outside of the White House.

"It's a gorgeous place to work," Mr. Plunkett said of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. "The degree of accuracy in the stonework was beautiful. We even found the old stone masons' marks in the stone."

To add their place in history, Mr. Plunkett and his team of four restorers added their own names and the date to the stone. The project took eight years and was finished in 1996.

The Lafayette Quilters and the Daughters of Dorcas brought their handmade quilts. Both D.C.-based groups showed off their skills and taught tourists the basics of quilting.

"We formed our group 15 to 16 years ago with just a few women," Virginia Quinn, one of the members of the Capitol Hill-based Daughters of Dorcas said. "We have 130 members now. We just quilt a lot and help teach each other. It's a lot of fun."

The Lafayette Quilters creates a quilt and raffles it off in an auction for the Lafayette School in Northwest.

"It takes a lot of patience to quilt," Jane McIntyre said. "It's a very social, old-timey kind of get-together activity."

The Davey Yarborough Band, a jazz and swing ensemble, was one of several musical groups entertaining crowds on the Mall.

Local schoolchildren took part in the festivities by creating poems and paintings to describe the District.

In "D.C. The View from Here," D.C. schoolchildren described neighbors and sights, such as RFK Stadium and Eastern Market, through art.

A makeshift basketball court was filled with children and adults taking on one another in foul-shooting competitions and games of five-on-five.

Historians were on hand to tape record oral histories from D.C. residents as part of the "Beyond the Monuments" project. Residents were asked questions such as "What part of D.C. do you not want to see changed?"

Representatives from the Seafarers Yacht Club, a local boating group, demonstrated how to build a boat.

And, this being Washington, politics wasn't out of the picture. Members of the D.C. Statehood Party spoke to tourists about granting statehood to the District.

Tourists and natives alike gathered early in the afternoon to find the best spot for watching fireworks, some setting up tents on the Mall.

"We come down here every year," said Ryan Mitchell of Arlington. "It's great to see the fireworks from on the Mall. It's worth waiting for, though it is pretty hot out today."

The heat was a frequent complaint.

"The heat's bad and the water's expensive," said Doris McCray, a Portland, Ore., resident in town with her husband, Bruce Johnson, and their two children.

The family set up an umbrella on the grass not far from the Washington Monument to shield them from the sun while they waited for the fireworks that were still hours away.

"We're looking forward to the fireworks," her husband said. "We watched it on television last year and thought it would be nice to come down to Washington and see them."

Jim and Ann Taylor of Dumfries, Va., have lived in the area for 50 years and never been to the Mall fireworks together before last night.

"This is supposed to be an exciting time. I heard the opening was spectacular," said Mrs. Taylor, whose only experience with the downtown festival was as a child more than 30 years ago.

• Greg Bishop and Jennifer Surface contributed to this report.

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