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Capital Celebration of Freedom

Onlookers gathered to watch the Independence Day fireworks at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., determined not to let a little rain and wind spoil the festivities. Video by Anna Uhls and Megan Rossman/

Metro trains, doubled for the incoming fireworks fans, were running smoothly. People filed into the Mall through four entrances with metal detectors.

As the evening rain turned to a steady downpour about 7:30, families congregated under a patch of cherry trees and in makeshift tents; scores of others headed for exit gates along Constitution Avenue.

Elaine Naleski, 62, said she had driven to Washington from Colorado Springs, Colo., with her husband, Kip. When it started to pour, they headed for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and bought, for $5 each, thin blue ponchos. Passersby asked where they got them.

The Easter family drove from Burlington, N.C., yesterday, after watching a local fireworks show near their home Thursday night. "They were really lame," Suzanne Easter said of the pyrotechnics.

Easter, 40, said she was determined that her children would see the real thing, and they waited in excitement as darkness fell. They had visited the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, where Dylan, 6, had an American flag painted on his face and his sister Taylor, 10, had her face decorated with images of fireworks.

"Your kids are only so old so long," said their father, Shawn Easter, 42. We wanted to make it a special vacation, and what better way to do that than by coming here for July Fourth?"

The Spinelli family, eight adults and five children, improvised when the series of short but strong showers threatened to drive them home. A box of black trash bags was bought at a nearby drug store, and everyone donned the makeshift rain gear. John Spinelli of Springfield asked his wife, Colleen, whether she was comfortable. "I'll let you know when I see the traffic on the way home," she said.

There was some drizzle during the fireworks, particularly during Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," but the crowd stayed with the performance. "It was awesome," said Kunal Amrut, 26, a graduate student at Howard University. "My ears were beating. It was loud, but it was good."

Soprano Harolyn Blackwell, a D.C. native, opened the concert with "The Star-Spangled Banner," and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks electrified the crowd with a jazzed-up rendition of "This Land Is Your Land." After the concert ended, people on their way home waited in a 500-foot-long line to get into the Capital South Metro Station. Stations north of the Mall were less crowded.

Earlier in the day at Leisure World, hundreds of residents and their relatives donned their finest Uncle Sam suits, American flag hats, and red, white and blue pompoms for the annual parade of seniors. Some drove antique cars, others rode in convertibles, and a handful of women danced atop a red fire engine. A few participants paraded with their walkers.

But many drove in golf carts. They awoke early to decorate the carts with Americana tinsel and flags. Some blared patriotic music from boomboxes in their carts and tossed candy to the onlookers lining the parade route.

In the District, the Palisades parade drew a host of politicians. And it was not just gas prices that drove people to line up along MacArthur Boulevard, it was pure tradition. The 42nd annual Fourth of July event was an all-American melting pot that was part old-fashioned parade and part political rally, sprinkled with Halloween and Mardi Gras.

As always, anybody could be in the parade. Children on bikes, on foot, in elaborately decorated cars and in wagons pulled by sweaty parents joined the traditional politicians, marching bands and grand marshal, Teddy, the bobble-headed President Theodore Roosevelt who races at Washington Nationals games.

Olivia Nash, 10, said she and her sister Caroline, 7, had planned to be in the parade with "a float called the all-American dogs."

"We were going to get all our friends dogs and my dad was going to get a convertible, but we couldn't get it together this year," said Olivia, a little disappointed but enthusiastic about next year's possibilities.

Staff writers Michael Birnbaum, James Hohmann, Ben Hubbard, Derek Kravitz, Michael Laris, Philip Rucker, Kameel Stanley, Nikita Stewart and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

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