Glittery paper top hats and flashing accessories bedecked the horn-honking crowd in Baltimore's Inner Harbor on Saturday night as thousands gathered for the annual midnight fireworks display.
"These are always popular, no matter where you are," said Joe Deacons, picking up a pair of plastic eyeglasses in the shape of "2012" from his array of New Year's novelties. He was selling his wares — glowing light sticks, necklaces and plastic horns — from a cart on the corner of South and East Pratt streets, readying the people streaming toward the fenced-in viewing areas.
A half moon hung over the Inner Harbor's clear sky for the New Year's Eve celebration, and the crisp air dipped only into the mid-40s by midnight. The chain-link fences surrounding the harbor, a new addition to the downtown event, confused some spectators at first but seemed to go unnoticed once people were inside.
"We had to sneak in between the fencing over by the carousel" by Key Highway and William Street, said Jennifer Warmack of South Baltimore, who came early with friends to walk the perimeter of the Inner Harbor. They planned to watch the show from the Hanover Street bridge.
After a jaunt to Phillips Seafood, they found themselves outside the fence again and had to tread carefully in the street until they arrived at one of the nine openings that police established to help control foot traffic.
Friends Jim Harrison of Gainesville, Fla., and Barb Lambert of Hagerstown visited the National Aquarium on Tuesday and were surprised to see the fences had been erected when they returned to Baltimore Saturday.
"I said, 'Were those here the other day?'" Lambert said. "I was wondering about that." They did not have trouble finding an opening and getting into the Inner Harbor's walkways, Harrison said.
The Police Department decided that fences would make spectators safer, said Tracy Baskerville, a spokeswoman for the city's Office of Promotion & The Arts. Their installation came after a 4-year-old boy was hit by a stay bullet and an Alabama man was stabbed to death by a broken bottle following the July 4, 2011, fireworks.
When announcing the fencing, police officials said it was intended largely to assist with the flow of pedestrian and vehicle traffic and to prevent people from walking into bumper-to-bumper streets. Police officers at the entrances also were given discretion to limit access to prevent overcrowding, Baskerville said.
Oldies music blasted from speakers surrounding the harbor early in the evening, and beginning at 9 p.m. live funk and soul was performed from a stage set up in the plaza near the intersection of Light and East Pratt streets. Fireworks began promptly at midnight, following a countdown from the crowd, and lasted for about 18 minutes.
Baskerville said that for the first time, viewing areas and designated access points were installed for people with physical disabilities.
"It makes it much more convenient for me," said Dorian Carr, a downtown resident who uses a scooter, watching the fireworks from a fenced-in area in front of the temporary amphitheater. "It'll be easy for me to get out at the end of the night."
The 2012 New Year's fireworks were in danger of being canceled because of the city's budget woes until The Baltimore Sun and several other companies stepped forward with funds. The Sun sponsored the display as part of the paper's 175th anniversary. The total budget for the fireworks show was more than $100,000.