Despite Rains, D.C.'s Fourth Sparkles

Elizabeth Koh, Will Greenberg, and Faiz Siddiqi

- The Washington Post

Not the rain, not the seas of mud nor the sopping-wet grass could prevent a huge, eager and enthusiastic crowd from gathering on the Mall on Saturday night to celebrate the country’s birthday by watching and cheering at the annual fireworks show.

Waving small flags, attired in patriotic red, white and blue, they sat happily on the steps of the Capitol, the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, and they filled the broad lawn below the Washington Monument, joining together to mark the country’s birthday in a traditional fashion.

“God bless America,” said Kane Phillips, 18, who was with his mission group from Tennessee.

“I’m very proud of my country,” he said at the Lincoln Memorial.

Nearby waterways turned orange with the reflection of the glare from the display of pyrotechnics, and crowds cheered, gaped and erupted in “wows.”

 
Fireworks illuminated the Washington Monument as thousands gathered for Fourth of July festivities in Washington, D.C. (A Capitol Fourth/PBS)

“There’s just something about having the Lincoln Memorial at that end and the monument at this end, and the fireworks echoing off of them,” said Mike Drnec of Ellicott City, Md., who has been attending for 25 years. “There’s just nothing like it.”

Rain had deluged the Mall only a few hours earlier. Some had enough, but many stuck it out. “There was a point it was raining so hard we almost gave up,” said Gerald Winter, who traveled from Freeport, Ill., to spend the holiday with family from Rockville. But they kept walking until they found a good spot at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in West Potomac Park.

Some have been coming to see the fireworks for years, including Myra Gochnour, wearing a blue vest with white stars. She had plopped down alongside her friend and fellow dentist, Joanne Adamski, of Potomac, Md., who wore a white shirt with red stripes to make a joint statement of sartorial patriotism.

The crowd watched in amazement as one brilliant burst followed another after another in the skies above the monument, with flash following flare like flowers still unfolding against the bright background of earlier blooms.

“It’s the best party ever,” said Robin Cotton of Bethesda, Md.

“Even if it makes me jittery for a minute,” said Iraq war veteran Aaron Rogers, “it’s worth it to see the fireworks.”

Christina James, 37, who has witnessed the display many times, said she “thought this was one of the best.” Jill Follows of Falls Church, Va., called it “fabulous.”

 

Amid the earlier rain, things had for a time seemed touch and go. Metro said late Saturday night that ridership appeared to be down about 10 percent from last year, possibly as a result of the rain.

“It’s coming down, and it’s too much,” Roberto Yanez said of the pounding rain. The downpour prompted his family to head home to Beltsville, Md., as all around him people scampered for shelter, including some who lost flip-flops and sneakers as they ran.

At RFK Stadium, hundreds of spectators at a Foo Fighters concert were ordered off the field, until the rain ended.

The White House canceled a 6 p.m. picnic that President Obama was to host for the military and their families, though a later event at the mansion, featuring a performance by Bruno Mars, was still scheduled for 8:45 p.m.

As spasms of rain intruded on the morning and afternoon, the day turned into a waterlogged mess of patriotic and whimsical rituals that included trumpet-blaring processions, backyard barbecues, recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, and at least one hot-dog-eating contest.

By late afternoon, the main preoccupation was staying dry. At the National Gallery of Art, tourists huddled on the front steps.

Alicia Hernandez and her sisters Sharon and Erika drove from Nebraska only to find themselves camped out inside the museum’s entrance. “We drove so far,” Erika Hernandez said.

AT RFK, moments after Joan Jett finished “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” ushers began moving people into the sweltering concourse where booming chants of “USA! USA!” — and at least one full but decidedly off-key rendition of the national anthem — broke out. Forty-five minutes later, people were allowed back onto the field.

Earlier in the day, spectators lined Constitution Avenue NW in the District, with selfie sticks and smartphones to cheer motorcycle cops revving their engines and baton-twirling bands high-
stepping behind them.

Several miles north, in the always-quirky climes of Takoma Park, Md., a cardboard version of Hillary Rodham Clinton crept along Carroll Avenue as part of a cavalcade that included a contingent of red, white and blue Toyota Priuses, the Black-Eyed Suzies roller derby team, a giant stuffed dog meant to evoke Clifford, and a cutout of the woman who founded the Girl Scouts of America.

One resident, Sarah Slegers, described the procession as an annual showcase for “Takoma weirdos.”

“Everyone gets to come out and fly their freak flag,” she said.

A morning downpour delayed several events. At the National Archives, a few hundred people signed a replica of the Declaration of Independence before the rain forced organizers to halt the event.

Lori Sumdstrom, a volunteer, rushed to remove the first page of the Declaration, nearly full of rain-streaked signatures, as visitors huddled under umbrellas and ponchos.

“We hope to see you next year,” an announcement blared over loudspeakers, prompting a roar of boos.

Kayla Gowdy, who arrived at the Mall at 8:30 a.m., hunkered down with two friends on the wet Archives steps, planning to stick around for the fireworks. “I’ll sit in the rain for America,” she said.“It has to be lightning hitting an umbrella for us to leave.”

Across the Potomac River, a crowd at Mount Vernon — George Washington’s home — recited the Pledge of Allegiance as they watched 100 people from 45 countries become U.S. citizens in a special naturalization ceremony.

Jones Manga, 25, an Army reservist who was born in Cameroon, was in uniform as he received his citizenship. “I felt like a different man,” Manga said afterward.

So did Thomas Jung, who held his stomach after the inaugural Vienna Chili Dog Eating Contest in Vienna, Va. He had won by gobbling 11 Vienna Inn chili dogs.“Easy,” he said as his daughter Hannah, 10, bolted toward him for a hug. “I feel awful.”

Jung, 46, said it was his first-ever competitive-eating event. With two minutes to go in the contest, he had bowed his forehead and wiped his brow, appearing ready to quit. But then he reached for another chili dog and began eating it scrap by scrap.

When a paper sign flashed “11,” the crowd roared.

The District parade had marching bands and performers from all over the country. Iowa’s Davenport Central Marching Blue Devils twirled red, white and blue flags.

A number of ethnic groups also traveled the route, including Sikhs and South Vietnamese, their floats blending cultural markers with American symbols to stress a message of acceptance and inclusion,

“I’m here to celebrate America’s birthday,” said Ann Gordon, 62, of Atlanta, standing at Seventh Street NW, as her husband, Rusty — sporting two small American flags tucked into each of his back pockets — nodded in agreement.

“Its been a year of strife on a worldwide basis, so I thought it was a good time for [Americans] to reassert ourselves,” Rusty Gordon said.