Darlington played host Saturday to the first of many Independence Day celebrations taking place in and around Harford County over the next week, with a parade, Darlington Idol contest and fireworks.
"This is one of the better, what I would call, 'Hometown parades,' " Stephanie Gill of Norrisville said as she watched her 4-year-old daughter, MacKenzie, and 8-year-old son, Steven Jr., pick up pieces of candy tossed out by people riding on parade floats.
"It's what a parade should be in a small town," Gill continued.
Saturday's parade was part of the 26th Darlington Independence Day Celebration, and the last for Kira Dare as president of the Darlington Independence Day Celebration Committee.
Dare will step down from the position she has held for more than a decade, and the Darlington Lions' Club will take over putting on the community's Independence Day festivities.
Dare said there were 70 organizations registered to take part in the parade, which lasted for about an hour and 10 minutes. It was the largest and longest the parade since she became president of the committee.
"The word's out that we're a great parade," she said.
Saturday's parade proceeded through the downtown area of the village of Darlington, along Main Street and then Shuresville Road.
It included ambulances and fire trucks representing volunteer fire companies from around Harford and neighboring counties, mail trucks from the Darlington Post Office, vintage military, Maryland State Police and other vehicles, a black and bright purple "Bawlmer Ravens" fan bus blaring music and sirens, the Havre de Grace High School Marching Warriors, horseback riders, tractors and others.
"I like the horses and the fire tricks and the Ravens thing," little MacKenzie said. "I like all kinds of stuff!"
The grand marshal was Joni Nugent, a longtime resident of Darlington and a former member of the Darlington Independence Day Celebration Committee. She rode in a vintage Maryland State Police truck.
Carla Yeago, the parade mistress of ceremonies, noted Nugent "has contributed immensely to the village of Darlington," as she announced the grand marshal from the reviewing stand.
Members of Boy Scout Troop 301 of Dublin made up the parade's color guard to lead the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem to open the parade, and members of local Girl Scout groups could be seen marching in the parade also.
"This event is just such a wonderful event for the community and I love being a part of it," said Yeago, who said she has been emcee for at least eight years. "I just love seeing everyone come out and enjoy the night."
The parade did not just draw spectators from northern Harford County, however.
John Mayni of Bel Air attended with his friend, Candice Doehring, of Abingdon, and her fiance, Richard Fuggi, of Bel Air.
"I'm only 25 minutes down the road," Mayni said. "It's definitely worth the trip."
Mayni and his friends sat along Shuresville Road, watching the parade go by.
"I loved it," Doehring said. "I think everything in the parade was wonderful, fantastic and awesome."
Fuggi grew up in Darlington.
"I think the parade was good, fun and exciting, to see all the cool stuff, all the cool cars," he said. "It's always worth the drive."
Organizer Dare said she hoped to have greater participation from local marching bands, but noted the challenge of bringing students together after school lets out for the summer.
She thanked Richard Hauf, director of the Havre de Grace Warrior Pride Marching Band, for bringing his students.
"He pulls these kids together and has them marching in all the parades locally, and he is an awesome band director and so respected by his students," she said.
The annual Darlington Idol contest drew a number of people, adults and children, to show their singing talents on stage at Francis Silver Park after the parade.
The setup was similar to Fox's hit "American Idol" show, with contestants singing segments of hit songs and receiving feedback from judges.
The local three-judge panel included John Ryan of Captain John's Seafood of Street, Ginelle Johnson of Hall's Septic Service of Street and Abby Derosset of Hair Design by Abby Inc. of Riverside.
The contestants were whittled down to three finalists: Savannah Cash, 12, of Aberdeen; Rachel Bauer, 17, of Edgewood, and Andrea Wolfe, 22, of Darlington.
Wolfe impressed the judges in the early round with her rendition of Carrie Underwood's "Last Name," and went on to win the $100 cash first prize with her rendition of Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead."
Wolfe, who sells cars at Bob Bell Chevrolet in Bel Air, came to the park from work, and entered the Darlington Idol contest on the "spur of the moment."
"It was kind of spur of the moment, but I had fun," she said, "I love signing; I was in my element; it's definitely a passion of mine."
Savannah took third place, a $25 cash prize, with her rendition of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," and Rachel won second place, $50 cash, by performing Sugarland's "Stay."
Master of ceremonies Jerry Scarborough, who was also in charge of the parade, gave a special $5 prize to 7-year-old Reagan Ferretti, of Bel Air, who showed a strong stage presence while singing Taylor Swift's "Last Christmas."
"She was so cute, I couldn't stand it," Scarborough, a member of the Darlington Volunteer Fire Company and owner of Hall's Septic, said later.
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Children danced on the park's stage as the sun set, and then the fireworks went off after 9 p.m., when the dark settled.
People were treated to colorful airbursts and the loud booms of the shells and rockets.
Greg Molnar, of Bel Air, and his girlfriend, Nicole Herbert, of Street, were lit up as they sat under the park's picnic pavilion, watching the fireworks.
"They're always good here," Molnar said after the show.
Herbert added: "We come back every year."
Dare said organizers did not take a head count of those who came to Silver Park, but said "it was truly the biggest crowd I've ever seen down at the park."
"I thought that it was the best Independence Day celebration that we've had to date," Dare continued. "I am grateful to Jerry Scarborough for organizing our biggest parade yet, and we were all grateful that the weather could not have been better, that our attendance could not have been greater and that it was evident that the day's events were enjoyed by all."