Sounds of the carousel and squeals of delight greeted visitors who passed beneath the balloon-laden, "Happy Birthday, Montgomery County" sign at Glen Echo Park Sunday.
At the top of the entrance walkway, crowds gathered in the yurt village, a group of Mongolian huts with roofs of grass and earth. Inside were displays of printmaking, fabrics and fibers.
Blacksmith David Marvil Jr. clanged rhythmically against his anvil, drew red-hot metal from the stove in the back of his converted van and spoke of his dying art to a rapt audience.
As the crowd milled around, many stopped to watch the "paint-in." Using chalk, more than a dozen children -- many kindergarten age and younger -- expressed themselves in abstract forms on construction paper fastened to a blue and yellow wall. Often a mother or father served as artistic consultant and an older sister added finishing touches.
Inside Adventure Theatre, a sellout audience clapped along to tunes such as "This Old Man." After the performers put down their autoharp and guitar, they ran through the crowd in the carpeted bleachers. "The Tales of Beatrix Potter," starring Peter Rabbit, was presented with puppets and song.
Near the theater's box office, the Montgomery County Arts Council sold hundreds of balloons and "Back the Arts" T-shirts.
A long line, including many adults, strung itself around the merry-go-round.
At the Arts and Crafts Fair, the browsers and the buyers took up every inch of space under the roof of the Spanish Ballroom. Paintings, miniature ceramics, mirrors encased in elaborate wood or enamel, clocks made of quartz and pickled vegetables were among the wares spread out for view.
Two mimes, one a woman in purple tights and the other a man in a white suit with a green and pink suitcase, filtered throught the crowd. They made faces and kissed and hugged everyone they passed.
Portrait artist Robert Paschell -- brought in at the last minute by his mother, enamelist Dorothy Paschell -- sketched more than two dozen fairgoers for $1 apiece.
Popular Patti Cole, herself painted to resemble a circus performer, turned children into clowns. "I can't tell you how many I've painted, but I do one every 10 minutes -- unless the kid is talking. Then, it's 15," she said, dabbing the white greasepaint.
The actual birthday party for the county was held in the Old Bumper Car Pavilion. Short speeches -- politicians running for office were present -- reminded all within earshot that Montgomery County, named after Revolutionary War general Robert Montgomery, was as old as the United States -- 204 years. What followed was a stampede toward the 500 pieces of birthday cake.
A dance-line of seven, calling itself "The Dancing," weaved through the crowd in oriental garb, played instruments and stopped to give a skit.
Sculpture was demonstrated in the park's studio, where one onlooker asked a sculptor, "How do you lift those heavy pieces of rock?"
"It's no problem," she answered quickly. "I love huge rock formations and mountains, so working with big pieces is an enjoyable effort."
At one end of the park, children fashioned large, crepe-paper flowers, ground corn and wrote on slate.
Several works of fiction, including short stories and excerpts from magazines, were read by authors at the Writer's Center. The 20 listeners were invited to read from their own works. One person did so without much prodding.
The Arts Festival, sponsored by the Montgomery County Arts Council, the National Park Service and the Montgomery County Department of Recreation, also had the cooperation of the weather.
Despite pleasant temperatures, some revelers complained about waiting more than half an hour in concession lines or being forced to park outside Glen Echo. The parking lot filled rapidly after the noon opening, forcing thousands to park on side streets.
If these kinks are worked out before the next birthday party for the county, the 205th should be even greater fun.
A reminder: Activities at Glen Echo, including the Writer's Center and the highly recommendable Adventure Theatre, continue throughout the fall. a