- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Despite torrid heat, high humidity and lingering power outages and storm damage, the Washington area rang in the nation’s 237th year as planned Wednesday.

Thousands of visitors braved the heat and filled the Mall, packing the green between museums to check out the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

On the Mall, the Folklife Festival buzzed with activity. On the west end, crowds cheered to live go-go music. A more somber atmosphere took over the other side, by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, as volunteers read the names of victims over a loudspeaker.

Smithsonian spokeswoman Becky Haberacker said about 218,000 people were expected to attend the festival Wednesday.

Some visitors bypassed the Mall. David Climenson, 52, of Gaithersburg arrived by noon and put down a blanket to claim his spot on the Capitol steps to take in the annual concert and fireworks show. Playing with his smartphone and resting in a green lawn chair, Mr. Climenson said three other families would be joining him in the evening. Until then, he had plenty of activities to stay busy.

“I’ve got two or three decks of cards. Play some solitaire, put on some sunscreen, catch a suntan, take a nap,” he said.

As dusk fell, the National Symphony Orchestra, Matthew Broderick, John Williams and Josh Turner performed at the Capitol, and Olympic speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno took the stage to host a tribute to Team USA.

Farther south along the Potomac at the homestead of the nation’s first president, one of the most popular attractions at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate was a demonstration of how ice cream, one of Washington’s favorite desserts, was made in the 18th century. Historical interpreters Gail Cassidy and Anette Ahrens showed the crowds how cocoa beans were roasted and ground into a paste for chocolate ice cream, made with the use of ice hauled up in massive blocks from the Potomac River and stored underground to last as long into the summer as possible.

As for beverages, Washington enjoyed imported Madeira wine from Spain, his own distilled whiskey and a fruity brandy cocktail called cherry bounce.

Washington was his own architect at Mount Vernon, “and he was very good at it,” said Dennis Pogue, associate director for preservation at the estate.

Visitors Wednesday gathered on the mansion’s back porch, a breezy piazza overlooking the Potomac.

“It feels good out here. It’s the same thing we do in Texas,” said Chris Moore of Austin, sitting with his wife, Dina.

Mr. Moore said he opted for the smaller crowds at Mount Vernon rather than the massive celebration on the Mall because it afforded a better place to relax and contemplate the founding of the nation.

“This place is incredible. It’s just the kind of place that people need to see,” he said, noting the divided nature of the country’s current politics. “We all need to step back and look at where we started.”

Marching bands, floats, community groups and military service members paraded through Philadelphia’s historic district Wednesday as crowds braved sweltering temperatures for the city’s annual patriotic tribute to America.

Ellen Schmidt, of Magnolia, N.J., said the heat could not keep her from a decades-long tradition of attending the July Fourth festivities, which include a swearing-in ceremony for new citizens in front of Independence Hall.

“I celebrate this country and the freedoms that we have, and the freedoms that I wish for everyone,” Ms. Schmidt said.

In New York, about a dozen disabled soldiers — most triple or quadruple amputees — visited ground zero ahead of the usual throng of tourists. The visit was intended to salute service members who survived the post-9/11 wars to become miracles of modern medicine, and to promote two charities raising money for homes custom-built to ease their burdens.

The city’s celebration was capped with the Macy’s fireworks show off Manhattan, with 40,000 aerial shells launched from five barges.

With the District’s temperatures in the high 90s and a heat index of 104, those on the Mall found creative ways to stay cool.

The National Gallery Sculpture Garden was a popular spot for adults and children to soak sunburned feet and cool off along the circular fountain.

While waiting for the fireworks display, some visitors passed time with electronic readers and newspapers.

The family of Sherry Moeser of Sterling, Va., set up a volleyball net at noon. Ms. Moeser said her family has been bringing the net on July 4 for the past 21 years to share with friends and co-workers. She said she expected 20 people to arrive by the time the fireworks started.

“This is like Christmas for us,” said Ms. Moeser’s mother, Linda. “No presents. Just fun.”

Fun also was to be had at some of the Mall’s other attractions. Throughout the day, lines snaked down the steps of the Smithsonian’s natural history and American history museums.

Scattered thunderstorms that were forecast spared those who made the trek to the Mall.

To accommodate extra riders, Metro ran a Saturday schedule but operated trains at rush-hour service levels from 6 p.m. to midnight.

While the Mall’s festivities continued as planned, fireworks and other Independence Day events were canceled in Gaithersburg, Germantown, Rockville and Kensington as cleanup from Friday’s storm continued.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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