Mary O'Brien of Berlin says she has always enjoyed July Fourth celebrations. But she admits that this year the holiday will be even more special because of the six months her husband, Edmund, spent serving with his Army National Guard military police unit in the Persian Gulf war.
"I've gotten so used to looking for flags and ribbons," says Mrs. O'Brien. "We took a week's vacation to Amish country in Pennsylvania, and even in obscure little areas they had ribbons and flags and banners welcoming home the troops.
"Fourth of July is the culmination," she says. "It kind of brings everything to an end. Now we have him home."
In fact, this July Fourth will be the first time the O'Brien family has had Mr. O'Brien home in years. The 13-year veteran of the Ocean City police force usually has to work that day. But this year, he'll join six other Ocean City employees as the town's guests of honor at what officials are promising will be the best July Fourth celebration in the resort's history.
Ocean City attendance usually hits its high-water mark on July Fourth, as many people turn the holiday into a long weekend from work. With more than 300,000 people expected, Ocean City will stage two celebrations, one uptown and one downtown.
Both the July 4th Jamboree in the Park and the July 4th Musical Beach Blast will feature 20-minute fireworks displays by Zambelli Internationale. This year, the pyrotechnics will be synchronized to music broadcast over speakers at both locations. The only other fireworks show along the Delmarva beaches are an hour's drive north in Slaughter Beach, Del., so attendance at Ocean City's shows should be heavy.
Visitors at the town's north end and families who want a full day of activities should check out the Jamboree in the Park, held at Northside Park on 125th Street on the bay side. This family-style festival will offer 50 arts and crafts booths as well as food vendors and carnival games.
For the kids, there will be pony rides, a moon bounce tent and contests. Relay races will go off from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and competitions in watermelon eating, pie eating and bubble gum blowing will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Two pop music bands, the Electric Brigade from the U.S. Naval Academy and the show band Spectrum, will be the featured entertainment for the Jamboree in the Park.
The bands will alternate performances from 5 p.m. until about 9:15 p.m., when the fireworks begin.
Though there are a few picnic tables at the park, town officials recommend that festival-goers bring their own blankets or folding chairs.
The Musical Beach Blast, Ocean City's downtown Independence Day party, will feature three free concerts on the beach at Caroline Street.
The action will start with Big Wheeley and the Whitewalls, a rock and roll "greaser" band from York, Pa., who are making their fifth July Fourth appearance in Ocean City. In addition to belting out golden oldies by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino and others, Big Wheeley and the Whitewalls challenge their audience to Hula Hoop contests and Elvis impersonations. Their shows will take place at 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
At 5:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., the Volunteers, a five-man component of the U.S. Army Field Band, will take the Caroline Street stage. The Volunteers, who were a big hit at Ocean City's Springfest this year, will perform oldies as well as current American pop and country music.
Headlining the Musical Beach Blast will be Baltimore's Zim Zemarel Orchestra, performing an American pops concert. The show will start at 8:15 p.m. and continue until 11 p.m., with a 20-minute intermission for the fireworks show. The first 200 people to arrive for the Zim Zemarel show will receive small American flags as souvenirs.
Admission to both Ocean City celebrations is free. There will be free parking at the Convention Center (40th Street on the bay side), with shuttle buses running to the downtown celebration. Both events are a short walk from the regular Ocean City bus line, which runs from First Street to 142nd Street and offers unlimited rides for a dollar a day.
In order to accommodate the setup of the downtown fireworks show, beach access from the Wicomico Street pier to Caroline Street will be limited all day Thursday. In addition, the U.S. 50 drawbridge will not be raised for its usual 9:55 p.m. opening so that cars leaving the fireworks will be able to get out of town more quickly. The bridge will resume its regular schedule with a 10:25 p.m. opening.
Rain date for both Fourth of July fireworks shows is Friday at 9:15 p.m.
Lewes, Del., celebrates an old-fashioned Fourth of July every year with a small parade on Second Street. But the Independence Day parade many people will be watching in this quaint seaside town will take place on the water.
The second annual July 4th Boat Parade and Miss Lewes Harbour Contest will start at 2 p.m. About four dozen boats of all sizes and shapes are expected to parade into the harbor festooned in decorations celebrating a theme of "Pride in America."
Anglers Restaurant and Marina has donated the use of its 2-acre parking lot for the party that will accompany the boat parade and beauty contest. There will be a pig roast and chicken barbecue starting at 11 a.m. Admission is free.
At 2 p.m., commanders from the local VFW and American Legion will welcome home the American troops who served in the Persian Gulf. The highlight of this ceremony will be a flyover salute by U.S. Air Force C-5 jets. Jane Thompson, Anglers' manager and head of the celebration committee, says "all veterans of all wars" are encouraged to participate.
After the ceremony, local Desert Storm vets will board a large boat and lead the boat parade. The ornamentation of the ships and their sailors -- and that of the beauty contestants -- will be judged starting at 4:15 p.m., and trophies will be awarded at 5 p.m.
The entry fee for the boat parade is $10 for vessels 25 feet or less and $20 for those longer than 25 feet. Contestants (regardless of their sizes) in the Miss Lewes Harbour contest need to post a $50 sponsor fee. For information, contact Jane Thompson at Anglers Restaurant, (302) 645-9931.
As the fun winds down dockside in Lewes, partygoers are invited to board charter boats at the Anglers and Fisherman's Wharf marinas for the one-hour chug up the Delaware Bay to Slaughter Beach, where the Memorial Fire Company will stage its annual fireworks show. The boats will return at about 11:30 p.m., and the fares, which vary from boat to boat, run about $7.
Independence Day revelers are invited to decorate themselves and their bicycles and become part of Bethany Beach's July Fourth parade. Floats, bands and anyone who wants to join in will gather near the Christian Church in Bethany at 2 p.m. The procession will head down Garfield Parkway through the heart of the town and conclude at the bandstand on the beach.
Parade judges will announce their picks for the most original entries following the event, and the Hot House Jazz Band will play a free concert at the bandstand at 8 p.m.
The Delaware resort towns of Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach are staging a combined holiday celebration called "Four for the Fourth" on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and next Sunday. The festival is aimed at the "tots to teens" crowd.
Dinosaur egg hunts, peanut scrambles, dinosaur hanimals (dinosaurs you create by painting your hand) and peanut-on-your-nose races are scheduled at Lake Gerard in Rehoboth on Thursday and Saturday and the bay-side beach at Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach on Friday and next Sunday. The events will start at 10 a.m. each day. For more information, call the Rehoboth-Dewey Chamber of Commerce at (800) 441-1329.
In addition, there will be a twilight kite-flying contest on the beach at Brooklyn Avenue in Rehoboth on July Fourth. The contest is open to kids ages 6 to 12, and kite entries should be decorated in a patriotic motif. A professional kite demonstration will follow. For more information on the kite exhibition, call the Rehoboth Department of Recreation at (302) 227-6181.