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1992 gets a bright, blaring, booming welcome


Thousands of people cheered last night at the Inner Harbor as the first blasts of fireworks exploded over the World Trade Center at midnight, marking the beginning of the New Year.

There was a crescendo of blaring paper horns as the countdown toward midnight began. The crowd grew wilder by the second and greeted the fireworks with overwhelming enthusiasm.

"It's awesome; it's cool," yelled Mary Ellen San Juan of Towson.

"That's the extent of her vocabulary," noted her friend, Jovie Soriano, also of Towson.

Glen Prytula, of Washington, jumped up and down as he and his friends watched the fireworks.

"This is 'The Star-Spangled Banner' right here, man," he exclaimed. "We came all the way from D.C., and we're glad we did because, let me tell you, down there they've still got their ties on."

As always, New Year's Eve was a night of partying. Earlier in the evening, hundreds of people converged on the Convention Center to toast the arrival of the New Year with nothing stronger than soda.

The city's Party with a Pop -- an alcohol-free celebration that featured dance music, contemporary jazz, jukebox oldies, comedy and an a cappella quintet -- has become an annual tradition for Dr. Christine and Tom Kallio and their 7-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

The Catonsville family started coming to the Convention Center four years ago and found it more fun than fancy parties or expensive dinners.

"We used to do some really big thing, but we never had as much fun as we have here," Dr. Kallio said. "It's a real mixed crowd. There's plenty to do and see. We like the family focus. There are a lot of families here."

Monica Porter, 26, said she thought it was a great way to celebrate New Year's Eve with her 3-year-old daughter, Jonaye Taylor.

"I didn't have a baby sitter," said Ms. Porter, a secretary from Northeast Baltimore. "It's really good. She'll be with me all night."

In Annapolis, on a night usually associated with drunken carousing, in a town known for its party atmosphere, some 12,000 revelers welcomed the New Year last night with nary a drop of alcohol.

Well, at least not a public drop, as they jammed school auditoriums, bank lobbies, museums and courtrooms to see dancers, singers, magicians, ice sculptors and other entertainers during the second First Night Annapolis.

First Night began in Boston 15 years ago as a non-alcoholic celebration of the performing arts and has spread to some 55 cities since.

When it debuted in Annapolis last year, mobs jammed many of the performance sites, forcing organizers to turn people away. Elizabeth Welch, one of the directors, insisted they had "banked on" a crowd of 10,000 last year, but based on the response nearly doubled the number of performances and performers this year and added a dozen more sites throughout the city's historic district and the St. John's College campus.

Celebrants wearing pink, black and white buttons with the First Night logo as their admission tickets saw entertainment, rode free trolleys from the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium parking lot to downtown and took a shuttle or walked from one performance site to another.

They saw acts that ranged from Cajun music to classical, ice-dancing to Vietnamese folk dancing, dramatic presentations by a Boston actor who looks frighteningly like Edgar Allan Poe to illusions by a wise-cracking magician from Wisconsin in a Saturday Night Fever tuxedo.

Early on, "Nymbelwyke" stood on the steps of St. Mary's Catholic school in harlequin costume directing traffic to the children's performances with juggling batons.

"Right this way, right this way," he intoned.

Jim Frank, the man in the costume, worked the streets last year in stilts while juggling, swallowing swords and eating fire.

Next to Mr. Frank, Steve Hammill, an illusionist, mystified 5-year-old Michael Rutland with the old disappearing sponge ball trick. Michael's twin, Steven, and his other brothers, Chris, 7, and Brian, 2, giggled in the background.

"We heard about this last year," said Michael's mother, Cathy Rutland, "and we decided to go this year. It seemed like a really good thing to do."

Inside the auditorium, David Seebach, the wise-cracking magician, had picked a youngster from the audience who was wielding a pair of scissors to help with one of the tricks.

"Remember, Chris," he warned, "This is rope, these are fingers. Don't get them confused."

Later, Mr. Seebach was sawing a woman in half and making others disappear during his full-blown act in Key Auditorium at St. Johns College.

As the sun went down, Skip Guthier, who runs a local bake shop, was supervising a crew that included Tom McMullen and John Rocca, chefs at the Annapolis Yacht Club and Ramada Inn, as they wielded chain saws on huge blocks of ice to carve a dragon at City Dock.

Just down the street at the Naval Academy, skaters from the Next Ice Age, an ensemble skating company, along with a few Olympic hopefuls, spun, twirled and leapt across the ice rink in Dahlgren Hall.

"It was a blast last year," raved Nathan Birch, one of the company's founders. "But we found out we overextended ourselves. We were either skating or rushing to change costumes all night. By the fourth show, we were really exhausted."

This year, they did only three shows and added skaters so each one could do less. And they changed the music, from New Age and computer compositions to classical music and Frank Sinatra.

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