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America’s “Great Anniversary Festival”

The pomp and parades of Independence Day date back to the nation’s founding

Independence Day provides us with a free day of homemade and heartfelt celebrations, ranging from small-town parades to Washington, D.C.’s capital show. Complete with cannon fire, that extravaganza of sound and light lets you imagine the bombardment that drew The Star-Spangled Banner out of Francis Scott Key’s soul.
    With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 upon us, it’s tempting to think that our Independence Day fireworks celebrations imitate those rockets’ red glares.
    In fact, the tradition of pomp and parade is older still.
    On July 3, 1776, founding father and second president John Adams set the standard in a letter to his wife:
    The day will be most memorable in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
    This is our time, and here’s how we celebrate.
    –Sandra Olivetti Martin

Saturday June 30

    If July Fourth’s falling on a Wednesday is inconvenient for your schedule or you want to get started a few days early, make the trip to the Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department (St. Mary’s County: 301-373-2900; The firefighters reserve one day a year to unleash their inner pyromaniacs in fireworks. Before the rockets scream across the sky, spend the early afternoon gazing on chrome and gears at a car, truck and bike show (noon-3pm). After an evening full of fun games for kids (5-9pm), the fireworks rise.

Sunday July 1

    Pack your picnic baskets, chair, and blankets and come to Sotterley Plantation to hear patriotic tunes by the Chesapeake Orchestra Brass Quintet, led by Jeffrey Silberschlag of St. Mary’s College. You’ll have a view on history, as well: the plantation gives a fine view of the Patuxent, the highway British troops traveled to burn Washington. (Raffle and silent auction, with food and drink. 1-4pm; $10 per vehicle; military families free: 301-373-2280;

    Bring the little patriots to Hancock’s Resolution for a hands-on exploration of our national symbols, including patriotic music, musket firing and flag flying (1-4pm; donations: 410-255-4048;

Tuesday July 3

Rose Haven & Chesapeake Beach
    At the Calvert-Anne Arundel border, Herrington Harbour in Rose Haven and the Rod ‘n’ Reel in Chesapeake Beach have long been rivals in patriotic pyrotechnics, often trying to anticipate or out-dazzle the other. Tonight, both loose their munitions into the sky at around 9pm. May the best display win.
    Herrington Harbour South opens its lawn and beach mid-afternoon to all comers. There’s music, kids activities, grilling by the Deale Volunteer Fire Department and drinks for sale. Bring a blanket and, if you like, picnic, and make yourself comfortable. Come early for good views.
    Early arrivers get the best views of Chesapeake Beach fireworks, too. Activities start at 5pm at Rod ‘n’ Reel with a children’s Fun Fest. The fireworks are shot from the jetty enclosing the harbor, so Rod ‘n’ Reel overlooks the spectacle.
    Prime free spots — the boardwalks of both Chesapeake and North Beach — fill up fast. Boaters anchored off Holland Point get the best seats for the night’s double feature, with Herrington firing to the north and Chesapeake Beach to the south.

Wednesday July 4

    Get back to your patriotic roots in Annapolis, hot spot of independence. At 10am, the William Paca House and Garden holds a naturalization ceremony for 40 new American citizens. Declaration of Independence signer Paca was once a new American himself.
    At 6pm, join or watch the city’s Independence Day parade. Gathering at Amos Garret Boulevard, it turns right on West Street, clockwise on Church Circle and down Main Street to City Dock. Prime spots for watching the march are on the Governor’s Mansion side of College Avenue and Church Circle plus all along Main Street. At parade’s end, the music picks up in a concert by the Naval Academy Band, set up at Susan Campbell Park and playing until dusk.
    The fireworks start at 9:15pm. Watch on land from Dewey Field and Hospital Point at the Academy, from street-end parks facing Spa Creek, from the Eastport docks.  Boaters get a great view from the Annapolis harbor (

    New this year: The Atria Manresa Senior Center on the banks of the Severn River invites you to see the show from its sloping grounds, which offer live music to complement a superb view of the fireworks. Make yourself at home with lawn chairs or blanket and picnic, or buy dinner from the BBQ buffet. The party starts at 6:30. rsvp by July 1: 410-349-9529.

Fort Meade

    There are few places in the area where patriotic fervor will be as undiluted on the Fourth as Fort Meade. At McGlachlin Field, within the bounds of the Fort, a free celebration is open for all comers. Food is sold starting at noon. Young ones enjoy pony rides, a trackless train, a bounce house and other rides, games and prizes. A DJ from Mix 106.5 plays tunes from 12:30-5:30pm; then the band New Monopoly takes over, playing until the fireworks begin at 9:30pm. Bring a blanket or chair (


    Galesville celebrates the Fourth with a parade in classic small-town style. Aerobatic pilot Bill Finigan begins the parade with a dazzling flyover.
Galesville’s volunteer fire department comes next, with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Next come patriotic floats and even decorated riding mowers, antique cars, horses and bikes dolled up in red, white and blue. Everybody’s welcome to join in the march, which runs a loop into town on Main Street. Judges (this year donning old-time hats in observance of the 1812 bicentennial) determine awards at noon as the parade gathers. The parade starts at 1pm at Anchors Way.
    Arrive early, as Anchors Way closes at noon and Main Street closes at 12:45pm.

Severna Park
    Severna Park’s Independence Day starts early. Breakfast on pancakes at the Severna Park Community Center (7:30-10am: $5). At 10am, join the annual July 4th Parade, a star-spangled procession featuring Civil War re-enactors, antique cars, floats and bikes traveling through town from St. Martin’s-in-the-Field Episcopal Church to Cypress Creek Park. The Community Center has a good view of the parade; bring a chair and watch from the lawn.
    At parade’s end begins a spirited festival, with food sold by local establishments, music by Severna Park rockers Wired Shut and numerous fun and family-friendly activities, including pony rides, a moon bounce, an array of classic cars and a Huey helicopter. The festival runs till 1:30pm.

Shady Side

    Shady Side celebrates with its annual parade beginning at 10am. Starting from Cedarhurst Road, floats, politicians, marchers, decorated bicycles, antique cars, tractors and sometimes a fire engine roll down Muddy Creek Road and wrap up at the Kiwanis Club on Snug Harbor Road.


    Solomons’ annual fireworks show blasts off from a barge on the Patuxent River, providing front-row seats for the entire island. Find a spot along the Riverwalk or anchor up in the river. Climb aboard the Wm. B. Tennison on a Calvert Marine Museum fireworks cruise (8pm; $35; rsvp: 410-326-2042 X41; no kids under 7).
    Fireworks start around 9pm. Designated parking for the show is at Glassock Field, behind Our Lady Star of the Sea and the Solomons Medical Center, and will set you back $5.


    The Inner Harbor Amphitheater hosts country-flavored rock band Mason Vixon at 4pm. The Naval Academy’s Electric Brigade plays a range of patriotic and pop tunes next to the Amphitheater’s stage at 7pm. Before the fireworks begin, Mayor Rawlings-Blake welcomes visitors and officially kicks off the celebration.
    Then the sky over Baltimore comes alive with light in an 18-minute extravaganza synched to patriotic tunes and Top 40 hits. Find outdoor observation areas all over the city, including the harbor, Federal Hill, and the Top of the World observation floor in the World Trade Center, though the latter will be packed to the gills, so arrive early.

    At Prince George’s Stadium, the Baysox blend America’s birthday with its national pastime as they play the Harrisburg Senators, then set the night ablaze in celebration of America’s independence. (Game time 6:05pm: 301-805-6000;
    Fireworks also explode over Allen Pond Park, culminating a celebration that begins in early afternoon with live music. Food and drinks go on sale in the park at 3pm. At 9pm, Mayor Robinson leads a flag ceremony and the singing of the National Anthem. Then the rockets’ red glare is actualized as the sky blows up real good (301-809-3011; All are welcome, save for pets.


    Visitors to Six Flags America on the Fourth can gather at the wave pool at dusk for the Six Flags Fireworks Spectacular. What make the fireworks especially dazzling here are the reflections they cast on the pool below, doubling the spectacle ($56.99 w/discounts: 301-249-1500;

Washington, D.C.

    Make the journey to Washington, D.C., and join thousands of others marking America’s independence.
    The celebration begins at 11:45am with a parade of marching bands, military units and floats progressing down Constitution Avenue and Seventh Street toward the Lincoln Memorial.
    On the National Mall, The D.C. Folklife Festival focuses on the nature of tradition and community, ideal topics for July Fourth. (Full list of events at The fest’s second week runs July 4-8.)
    Camp out early for a prime spot on the lawn of the Mall for the National Symphony Orchestra’s annual A Capitol Fourth concert, with Star Wars movie composer John Williams conducting the orchestra.
    America’s birthday wraps up in grand style: fireworks burst over the capital as the United States Army Presidential Salute Battery blasts live cannons into the night around 9:15pm. Prime views also from the Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial and Ellipse (