D.C. suburbs celebrate Fourth of July

July 4, 2011

Although Independence Day celebrations in the Washington area ran the gamut from picnics to parades to pyrotechnic displays, one thing was clear: Wherever you went Monday, it was a party.

For the tens of thousands of spectators who flocked to the Mall to spread blankets or snag a spot on the curb, America’s 235th birthday party did not disappoint.

It was a muggy day with temperatures in the high 80s and a smattering of drizzling rainstorms that some worried would ruin the highlight of the night: more than 15 minutes of bright, exploding color in the darkened sky above the country’s iconic memorials to presidents of the past.

The massive crowd — a sea of red, white and blue — stood quietly during the show, allowing an understated musical score to sweep through the night air.

But as the finale neared, the crowd burst into cheers, shouts and applause.

“It’s awesome that I’m in our nation’s capital celebrating the start of it,” said Joseph “Bubba” NeSmith, 15, who traveled from Florida with his Boy Scout troop.

The festivities at the Mall may have been among the biggest parties in the United States, but residents in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs served up Independence Day with their own twists.

In Takoma Park, Monday morning’s parade feted more green than red, white and blue.

Independence Day, for parade-goers in what some like to call the People’s Republic of Takoma Park, seemed to suggest independence from oil, never mind the British.

Spectators perched on the curb of Carroll Avenue cheered on residents pushing shopping carts and handing out reusable grocery bags. Compact electric cars hummed behind bicyclists urging people to “Burn calories, not oil.”

And Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams led the pack, armed with sustainability slogans and an ice-cold plastic water bottle he will no doubt recycle.

Joseph Harris, 61, has only missed about five parades since 1971. He is usually accompanied by his grandchildren, who missed out on Takoma Park’s spin this year because of swimming lessons.

“I like how the parade accommodates every political view, from the far right to the far left,” Harris said as a brigade of clean-water advocates and droopy-eyed basset hounds passed by. Meanwhile, political hopefuls handed out campaign yard signs along the sidewalk that parade watchers gladly used to fan themselves in the sticky heat.

His favorite part of the parade? The steel drums and the bagpipe procession (in kilted green plaid, of course).

Fairfax City saw a more traditional celebration, as hundreds clad in red, white and blue swarmed the streets near the Old Courthouse to see the motorcycles, bands, floats and firetrucks.

Sounds of a Revolutionary-era-type fife and drum corps, choruses of a patriotic song in several keys, and bagpipes playing the Marines’ Hymn greeted a cheering crowd. The two-hour spectacle featured librarians marching with book carts, young jockeys on horseback and a baby-faced 8-foot Uncle Sam.

Behind the strap-on beard was William Burns, who is 10 years old and 4 feet tall when not on stilts.

William has been walking on stilts since he found an old pair at his grandparents’ house.

“I’ve been practicing for a few weeks around the house,” he said.

“Outside,” he clarified.

Rachel Cleverley and her family were visiting from Cameroon, where her husband works for the State Department, to spend the holiday in the United States.

“It’s nice to remind the boys what America is all about,” she said as she carried son Asher, 5, on her shoulders.

Back on the Mall, Ryan and Teddi Jo Reynolds reflected on all of the places where they had celebrated the Fourth of July, including Atlantic City and Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

The couple recently moved to the Washington area with their five children. Ryan, 34, was a pilot for the Army and served two successive tours in Iraq. He is now a pilot for the Coast Guard, and is scheduled to start outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for post-traumatic stress disorder this week.

The couple decided their children would benefit from spending the holiday on the Mall.

“Our kids give up a lot to support their dad in the military,” said Teddi Jo, 30, “and they need to be reminded that all these hundreds of thousands of people that come together, whether they consciously think about it or not, appreciate our freedom.”

Staff writers Isaac Arnsdorf, Jenna Johnson and Sarah Khan contributed to this report.

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