An Emotional, Fireworks-Filled Fourth on the Mall

'Sweet Caroline' an poignant high point of the nation's birthday party

The rain held off and the fireworks flared over the National Mall Thursday night as thousands gathered for the nation's birthday in its capital.

A patriotic concert preceding the fireworks featured Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond. Both rallied sing-alongs from the audience, though the most poignant moment was Diamond singing "Sweet Caroline" -- a Red Sox anthem adopted by the rest of the country after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Then the fireworks followed, for an explosive 17 minutes or so of "oohs" and applause. Organizers shot off more than 3,000 fireworks during the display, reported News4's Shomari Stone.

"I think this was one of the best," said one onlooker. "We come every year. The weather was perfect. There was no wind and it was just beautiful."

"It just seems appropriate, being here,'' said Ian Hart, 16, of Newport News, Va., who traveled to Washington with his mother, sister and a family friend.

Although the National Park Service does not provide crowd estimates, the July Fourth celebration has attracted about 250,000 people in the past. The festivities in Washington also included a parade down Constitution Avenue.

Automatic budget cuts approved by Congress this year had a modest impact on the holiday. A second concert that's been held in the past on the grounds of the Washington Monument was not staged this year, saving the park service $200,000, spokeswoman Carol Johnson said.

Some park service employees got the day off Thursday, which did not happen in the past, she said. Also, the park service did not plan to pick up trash on the Mall overnight; instead, it was to be picked up Friday.

"We're going the old park routine of 'Pack it in, back it out,'" said a representative from the National Park Service. "If they] bring in as little as they can, they'd be making our lives a lot easier."

Another change this year: The Washington Monument has a bit of a different look, covered in scaffolding due to earthquake repairs.

Some visitors said they didn't mind the new style. "Some people would never know it's a scaffold because they kind of decorated the aesthetic part of the scaffolding," said one woman. "It does not affect the monument at all."

Despite the changes, the enthusiasm of the crowd was as strong as ever. Some people lined up at the security checkpoints Thursday morning, with a goal of laying claim to one of the prime viewing spots.

"I want to actually get a spot on the Mall, which I was told filled up quick, and looking at the line that's [forming]... yeah, it's going to be crowded," said one attendee.

Some revelers arrived as early as 10 a.m.

Another man, visiting from Ohio, said this is his first time here. "I'm just excited to be where everything is at, that's all," he said.

Those who want to sit near the Washington Monument need to pass through one of the nine security checkpoints. Picnic lunches and coolers are allowed, but glass, alcohol and knives are not.

Other festivities on the mall included the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The Folklife Festival is open until 5:30 p.m. every day through Sunday.

Of course, not everyone headed to the National Mall for the festivities. Some stayed closer to home.

Covering only two square miles, Takoma Park, Md., isn't known for its large population -- but it is known for its Fourth of July parade.

Melva Thomas came all the way from Ellicott City. "We chose this space because we have some friends who are going to actually be in the parade, so we came to support them," she said.

For Takoma Park's Victor Iwugo and his daughter, it's all about spending quality time together. She was a little shy, but wanted to make sure everyone saw her patriotic red-and-blue hairstyle.

"Her and her older sister... they were just in the spirit this year," said Victor Iwugo. "They're in the parade every year so she just wanted to do it up a little more this year so she's more in line with the colors."

The parade kicked off at 10 a.m. from the fire house on Carroll Avenue. The streets along the five-mile route were lined with crowds, and even Maryland Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown put in an appearance.

Brian Ellis of Ellicott City had staked out his spot early, in a prime location on Maple Avenue. "We left home at 7 o'clock. The early bird gets the worm," he said.

This is his first time at Takoma Park's parade.

"I'm hoping to see a good band out here," he said. I want to hear the drums and all that stuff, but I'm looking forward to everything. It looks like it's going to be really nice."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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