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Baltimore-area Independence Day celebrations survive weather, safety concerns

Under cloudy skies Saturday evening, Baltimore's Inner Harbor was teeming with visitors along water that was being crisscrossed by paddle boats, a pirate ship, water taxis and cruise vessels before the Fourth of July fireworks show.

Police officers traveling in pairs and a police helicopter circling overhead eased any worries the nine members of the Greer family — all in matching American flag T-shirts — had in the hours before their first Independence Day celebration in Baltimore.

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"We had family members warn us of the problems," said Aaron Greer, who recently moved to Severn with his wife, Marissa, and their three daughters. "We decided to come anyway. There's definitely a heavy police presence."

In the days leading up to Saturday's celebration, city officials and police geared up for the expected crowds, hoping to combat concerns about recent violence in Baltimore since the death of Freddie Gray.

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As the sun dipped behind the Baltimore skyline, the harbor scene included parents with strollers, young couples lounging on the grass and seniors settling onto benches for the massive fireworks show that lit up the sky.

Matt and Karen Johnston came to see the fireworks on their way home to Allentown, Pa., after their son Toby's lacrosse tournament in Annapolis. Johnston said he was not worried about the safety of the event. "These are the safer times, when all the guards are up," he said.

Added his wife: "You can't live your life in fear."

In Baltimore and other communities throughout the region, the main concern earlier in the day was whether there would be rain on the parades.

Antique fire trucks scheduled as units in the Towson's 150th anniversary Independence Day parade couldn't come out in the morning's downpour — they're too susceptible to rust, said organizers — but the drum and bugle corps did just fine.

Four A-10 Warthogs from the Air National Guard were grounded, but children on bikes, their tires wrapped with streamers, flew down the street, raindrops bouncing off their helmets.

"We get a kick out of the rain," said Shedrick Samuels, who walked alongside the Carolina Gold Drum & Bugle Corps. "When the elements are against us, it brings out the performer in us. Some of our best performances take place in a little rain."

In truth, there was a whole lot of rain. The Towson parade started on the dot of 10:30 am, but marchers kept up a noticeably brisk pace, wrapping up before noon.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who is battling cancer, canceled his appearance in the Towson parade, but a dozen other state politicians, including U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin and Reps. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes, braved a drenching. The difference was that instead of riding in open cars, most waved to the crowd through partially cracked windows.

Children carried umbrellas bigger than they were. Several parents said they considered staying home but changed their mind when they saw the disappointment on their kids' faces.

Finnegan Peacock, age "4-and-a-half" was entranced by the booming of percussionists in the Sonus Brass Theater Band. He stamped his feet and, clutching a lollipop in each fist, used them to beat a set of imaginary drums.

Rapheal Nadeem, 10, was attending his first Independence Day parade. Rapheal's family recently moved from Pakistan to Rodgers Forge.

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"I'm looking forward to seeing everything," he said.

Towson University interim president Timothy Chandler, who grew up in Great Britain, said small-town parades in America have a distinctly different feel than similar events in England.

"We have nothing like this in the U.K.," said Chandler, who came to the U.S. in 1981.

"There, people come out and celebrate their own community's history," he said, noting that British parades are pageant-oriented and tend to be more scripted. "Here, this is a celebration of an entire country's independence as it is recognized by individual communities."

The only real damper for Towson was the community fireworks were postponed until Sunday because of concern about possible thunderstorms. They'll go off at 9 p.m. at Loch Raven Technical School.

The weather had an affect on other traditional celebrations throughout the region.

In Harford County, Kingsville's parade was scheduled to begin shortly before 11 a.m., but organizers started early and cut short pre-parade activities such as music, dance performances and children's entertainment.

The Kingsville celebration was held up briefly when a vintage fire truck from Ferndale in Anne Arundel County broke down. Volunteers detoured other units around the truck as the crew worked to get the engine running again.

The crowed cheered after the engine was repaired and the truck cranked up.

Parades were also held Saturday in Annapolis, Bel Air, Dundalk, Catonsville, Arbutus, Lisbon, Mount Washington and other communities. Many also hosted fireworks displays.

In Westminster, people trickled into the Carroll County Farm Museum during the afternoon for its Fourth of July Celebration, an annual festival that includes wagon rides, entertainment and vendors, capped with fireworks over the museum grounds.

"Unfortunately the weather isn't great," said Reisterstown resident Barry Goldschmidt, who visited the museum with his wife, Eileen, in the afternoon, "but they say it will improve later on."

In the morning, Ty Ford, emcee for Towson's parade, had put the forecast question to Vytas Reid as the chief meteorologist for Fox 45 news rode past the parade viewing stand. The veteran weather man didn't miss a beat:

"We're good for the rest of the afternoon," he declared to the crowd.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters David Anderson, Mary Tilghman and Lauren Loricchio contributed to this article.

An earlier version of this story misstated the governor's last name. The Sun regrets the error.

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