- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

After a day of record-breaking rain, the fireworks on the Mall went on as scheduled last night, thrilling a smaller than normal — and soaked — crowd.

“Watching the fireworks draped over the Washington Monument while listening to the National Symphony brought chills to me and really made it an emotional, patriotic moment,” said Bob Hall of Vienna, Va., on the West Lawn of the Capitol, where he and flag-waving daughter Rachel, 3, watched the annual Capitol Fourth concert.

As festivities on the Fourth of July worked their way up to the climactic fireworks display, more than 2 inches of rain fell, canceling the annual parade, and many visitors to the drenched, muddy Mall took to the dry shelter of museums.

Others were steadfast.

“I would be here rain, shine or lightning,” said Ash Madhok, 47, a first-time visitor with his family from South Brunswick, N.J. “Despite the rain, I’ve been impressed. It’s about the spirit of the people, not the weather.”

But the rain ended about 7 p.m. and the concert at the Capitol and the fireworks on the Mall went off without delay and to the delight of onlookers.

“I was so happy to be here in our nation’s capital to celebrate its birthday,” said Kara Olson, 20, of Cincinnati, a political science major at Brigham Young University. “Watching the fireworks was a historical experience.”

America’s 2004 Independence Day Parade kicked off at 11:45 as planned, but so did the thunderstorms. About 24 entries — bands, floats, giant balloons and VIPs — started down Constitution Avenue before the heavy rain and lightning forced officials to postpone, then cancel, the parade at 2 p.m.

The groups that marched in the parade were soaked and had problems performing. Some unicyclists slid and fell on the slick pavement.

It was indeed a sloppy mess as the sudden and intense rainfall turned the grassy Mall into mud and created rivulets along the gravel paths.

“Very rarely has rain interfered,” said Bill Line of the National Park Service. “I’ve been here 24 years, and this is the first time we have had to cancel anything.”

The National Weather Service late yesterday afternoon confirmed that rain from the storm, still falling, had broken the 1882 record on the same date of 2 inches. Records go back to 1871.

The rain stopped long enough in the late afternoon for visitors to return to the Mall to find a seat for the fireworks display, but another line of storms would send them indoors again.

While tens of thousands of people descended on the Mall, Metro reported ridership to be down from the previous year, likely the result of the weather. By 10 p.m., 304,760 passengers had entered the Metrorail system, compared with the 427,211 riders by the same time last year, a decrease of about 28.7 percent.

Food and souvenir vendors, who depend on big sales on the Fourth of July, also reported low numbers.

“We’ve sent many workers home,” said Rene Carag, 19, a concessions worker at the Anita’s New Mexico tent in the Folklife Festival. “Since it’s July Fourth, you’d expect a lot more people to come.”

The Smithsonian museums were a popular place for the thousand of visitors to seek shelter. A guard at the Smithsonian’s Castle building said 2,227 visitors arrived between 1 and 2 p.m. Earlier in the day, before the rain started falling, about 200 to 300 visitors were entering the building every hour.

The building’s main reception room looked more like an airport terminal during a snowstorm, with hundreds of people standing, sleeping, playing cards or just sitting on the floor.

Across the Mall, tourists from the Taiwanese Association of America and elsewhere crowded around the elephant statue in the Museum of Natural History.

“It’s a historical event with the storms,” said Iyang Wang, 62, of Baltimore. “Everybody’s not prepared.”

Mr. Wang said the Taiwanese people support President Bush, who is a staunch supporter of Taiwan. However, Mr. Wang said association members use July Fourth to honor the U.S. government, not one political party.

“We just want to show our appreciation,” he said. “We appreciate that this country is open and free.”

Lightning temporarily closed the aluminum-roofed structure housing the Latin music exhibit. The music resumed by about 3 p.m., but the ground had turned to mud and the benches were slick with grime.

Tom Flynn, 59, came from Annapolis to listen to the music.

“I had no idea it would be pouring this much,” he said. “I don’t know how much I can take, though.”

Mr. Flynn, who commuted via Metro, also said he wished he had driven, citing the ample parking spaces close to the Mall.

East of the Folklife festival, the “Rekindling the Flame” exhibit was largely washed out. Christian missionaries Gader Wall, 49, and his wife Yerusha Wall, 52, sat in an empty booth “hoping to get to know people.”

Surrounded by inches of water, the two were meeting few.

“The Mall has just been flushed out,” Mr. Wall said. “There’s been a deluge of rain.”

Earlier in the day, Darel Cook, 41, of Dallas, watched the parade with his two children, visiting Washington for their first time. Mr. Cook said the trip was “a little bit of teaching, a little bit of sightseeing.”

Mr. Cook said he was not concerned about security threats.

“It’s troubling we have to go through the screening process, but I don’t worry,” he said. “We’re in very capable hands.”

In other parts of the country, it was also a day for parades, picnics, fireworks and summer stunts, such as the annual hot dog-eating contest at New York City’s Coney Island.

Outside Boston City Hall, in sight of historic buildings, including Faneuil Hall and the Old Statehouse, hundreds gathered for the opening of the city’s annual celebration.

“The Fourth of July has special meaning in Boston,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said before a fife and drum corps dressed in Revolutionary War uniforms marched past the audience. “Our country and everything we stand for started right here in these streets.”

And sometimes the holiday festivities produce something totally unexpected.

Two young bull moose, each more than 6 feet tall and weighing hundreds of pounds, crashed the Fourth of July parade at Brighton, Utah, in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, coming within a few feet of spectators.

“I told my family, that’s something you don’t see at the downtown parades,” Jeff Worthington said after Saturday’s celebration at Brighton.

Frank Petrignani contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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