- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2001

Rooftop partygoers around town tiptoed through the raindrops to celebrate Independence Day in a perennially upbeat way.
The lucky ones were those patrons and guests who paid $75 to recline in beach chairs under the overhang on the Kennedy Center's Roof Terrace, which kept them dry while they watched the fireworks blast off from the Mall many hundreds of yards away. They also got a view of gridlock traffic on Memorial Bridge below and a spectacular panorama of the Potomac River at dusk.
"It's better than a circus," declared Nicholas Folger, 9, grandson of Bitsey Folger, eyeing the Uncle Sam figure on stilts, the popcorn, hot dogs and cotton candy and all the crazy hat shapes made out of twisted balloons by the Mr. Balloon-ologist crew. Even grown-ups such as Conrad Cafritz were turned into children for the night, sporting hats, flags and fluorescent bracelets at the institution's first family-style July Fourth celebration.
"I lived in Washington for seven years. I went to the Beach Boys concerts," volunteered Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser, tieless in a light blue sport shirt as he remembered past celebrations at the Sylvan Theater on Washington Monument grounds.
It was strictly an informal occasion that drew expanded families of every stripe. Like most of the crowd on the balcony, Mr. Kaiser stood open-mouthed in awe when the fireworks finally exploded in what was to be one of the few dry intervals of the night.
"Makes you feel the country is invincible," said Zach Cafritz, 16, standing beside his father, Conrad Cafritz. Earlier, his mother, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, head of the D.C. Board of Education, had been having a business chat with Derek Gordon, the Kennedy Center's education head, inside where TV monitors everywhere boomed out the traditional concert program with the National Symphony Orchestra in front of the rain-soaked U.S. Capitol.
For a few carefree hours, life in this precinct was indeed a beach, or so the theme of the night indicated. The red-and-white-striped chairs came from Target. A large sign over one of the buffet tables proclaimed the rules: "No Frisbee or Ball Throwing. No Dogs on the Beach. No Sleeping on the Beach 10 p.m.-6 a.m. No Glass Bottles. Thank you, Mayor & Town Council."
"I used to go to the Commerce Department roof on the Fourth," lawyer and arts patron Riley Temple said, "but then the administration changed, so I'm here instead."
Like other private fetes boasting primo views (most notably from the White House South Lawn and the roofs of the State Department and Canadian Embassy), the annual party atop the Smithsonian's Museum of American History was going strong until the heavens opened up. The downpour sent guests scrambling inside as directed. Like good military planners, the troops marshaled by Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small whose neck tag read simply "staff" had provided an alternate indoors site to enjoy the all-American buffet of roast chicken, child-sized minihamburgers and potato and succotash salads, in addition to the popcorn, pretzels and hot dogs served from authentic street-vendor carts.
"We've been on the phone to Bob Ryan every half-hour," Mr. Small said, reassuring guests that WRC-TV's weatherman had predicted the rain would stop "at the appointed hour," which, in fact, it did.
What was a little wet stuff, anyway, to the likes of Mr. Small, or National Zoo Director Lucy Spelman for that matter, both of whom have weathered all sorts of bureaucratic storms of late in their attempts to streamline operations and reorganize departments in the face of pressing budgetary problems?
Guests, mostly Smithsonian "family" plus a long list of friends and supporters from Washington's media, arts and philanthropic establishments, agreed. Whatever the weather, there is no better place than the Mall (preferably in a dry spot, with a cool drink in hand) to watch the free celebrations on the Fourth.
And with ample patriotism as well, of course. As perennial good-cause promoter (and World War II veteran) Bill McSweeny put it, "I came to show the flag."

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