- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2013

Thousands clustered on the Mall on a humid, warm D.C. day to celebrate the Fourth of July, while around the nation the Statue of Liberty finally reopened after Superstorm Sandy swamped its little island and Boston held its first large gathering since the marathon bombing that killed three and injured more than 200.

In the District, tourists from across the country and local residents were seen towing whole watermelons, guzzling liters of water or desperately licking dripping ice cream cones as they attended afternoon attractions and staked out spots for the evening’s concert and fireworks show.

“It’s eye-opening,” said David Robles, an accountant from Westminster, Colo., describing the lively festivities and the grand architecture and memorials of the District. Mr. Robles, his wife and their two children came to the District for the first time this Independence Day to be “part of the history and feel proud to be Americans.”

Nancy McFarland and her husband, Walter, had been in Washington from Boiling Springs, S.C., for a week visiting their grandson. They attended the festivities for the nation’s 237th birthday after what turned out to be an emotional sightseeing trip to the monuments and memorials.

“I cry at parades. I cry at war memorials. I’m just very proud of my country,” said Mrs. McFarland, 59.

Throughout the day, clouds threatened but didn’t burst, with high humidity and temperatures climbing to 88 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Ann Massoud, a teacher from Alexandria who was among a group that staked out a position outside the National Gallery of Art, said she was pleasantly surprised it didn’t rain.

“It’s hot, but we brought plenty of water bottles,” she said.

Not everyone was bothered by the heat.

Jackie Fair, who is in the Air Force and living with his wife, Nicole, at Fort Meade, Md., said, “It’s hot, but we’re from Texas, so this really isn’t that bad.”

Early in the day, the National Independence Day Parade on Constitution Avenue and the ongoing Smithsonian Folklife Festival drew large numbers to the Mall. As the day wore on, crowds drifted toward the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol ahead of “A Capitol Fourth,” the 8 p.m. nationally televised concert featuring musical performances by Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond and “American Idol” winners Candice Glover and Scotty McCeery among others.

Composer John Williams conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in a performance of his music from the film “Lincoln.”

By late afternoon, the areas around the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial began filling with people staking out positions for the day’s signature celebratory event, the fireworks display which began at 9:10 p.m.

Meghan Molina, 12, was with her parents, who secured a spot near the Washington Monument at about 3 p.m. for their family’s first trip to see the fireworks on the Mall. Asked what she expected, she said, “Something really big, really exciting and really pretty.”

Some visitors noted immediately that the backdrop for the display was slightly different than past years.

“I wish the Washington Monument wasn’t covered up,” said Kailee Williams, a recent college graduate interning as an orthodontist assistant this summer in the District. She was referring to scaffolding constructed so repairs could be done on the iconic obelisk after damage from the August 2011 earthquake.

“It looked much nicer last summer,” she said.

Throughout the day, lines at security checkpoints moved quickly. Metro officials projected more than 500,000 people would use the rail system and by early evening officials said their predictions were on point.

Gerald Lorbek, 46, and his 18-year-old son, Stephan, were visiting from Austria and were curious to see how Americans celebrate their independence. Both said they came away with a favorable impression of the nation’s capital.

“It’s busy, political and rich. And it seems rich because the streets are very clean,” Stephan Lorbek said.

The National Park Service does not provide crowd estimates, but the District’s July Fourth celebration has attracted about 250,000 people in the past.

In New York, a large crowd gathered for the holiday and for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Liberty Island with federal officials and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Lines stretched blocks long for the boat to the island, which left from Battery Park in Manhattan.

Rodney and Judy Long of Charlotte, N.C., were the first people in line for the boat called Lady Liberty. They couldn’t get tickets to climb to the top of the statue, but they were just glad to be there for the big reopening.

“It’s perfect timing for it to reopen. It’s really a symbol for what the country is all about,” Mr. Long said.

Some repairs to brick walkways and docks are ongoing but much of work has been completed since Sandy swamped most of the 12 acres of the national landmark. The statue was open for a single day last year — Oct. 28, the day before Sandy struck. It had been closed the previous year for security upgrades.

The statue was spared in the fall storm, but the island took a serious beating. Railings broke, docks and paving stones were torn up and buildings were flooded.

“It is one of the most enduring icons of America, and we pulled it off — it’s open today,” National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Welcome.”

The celebratory mood turned somber in Oklahoma and Maine with fatal accidents during parades. In Edmond, Okla., a boy died after being run over by a float near the end of Edmond’s LibertyFest parade. In Bangor, Maine, the driver of a tractor in the parade was killed when the vehicle was struck by an old fire truck.

In Boston, attendance appeared to be down for the city’s first large gathering since the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon. The number of revelers at the Charles River Esplanade for the traditional performance by the Boston Pops and subsequent fireworks show seemed less than in previous years amid tightened security.

Christopher Dixon, 48, of Nashua, N.H., brought his daughters and grandson to the show for the first time, saying as members of the military practiced firing cannons that he had no worries about security.

“It’s safer today than in your own backyard, I think,” he said.

Quincy, Mass., resident Laurie Tetrucci has been coming to the show since she was a child, but she said this year felt this year felt different.

“I think we’re just a little more aware,” she said. “I think we’re a little more appreciative and grateful. I think it means more.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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