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Columbia's 'extraordinary spirit' lifts an eventful City Fair


The Columbia City Fair had it all: a birthday cake, a concert band and a Ferris wheel that stranded eight people Sunday in the middle of their ride.

The three-day event at Lake Kittamaqundi, which drew an estimated 60,000 people, ended Sunday with the cake and a visit from James W. Rouse, founder of the company that developed Columbia.

Rouse, pale and thin after undergoing coronary bypass surgery a month ago, praised the city for living up to its ideal as a racially diverse community.

"The people of Columbia have such an extraordinary spirit," the Rouse Co. founder told the cheering crowd. "You have all grabbed ahold of that ethos and carried it forward."

Cecil Alleyne, a four-year Columbia resident who has lived in various U.S. cities, said the planned community is the best place he has encountered.

"I hope the next 25 years [are] as prosperous and humanitarian as the last 25 years," Alleyne said.

But 12-year-old Jennifer Bien of Bethesda criticized the city's layout.

"Columbia is too spread out," Jennifer said. "In Bethesda, everything's right there."

But the youngster had no problem with the fair's food, as she and Meredith Nelson, 11, also of Bethesda, chowed down on french fries, hamburgers and Cokes.

For the food junkie, the fair offered treats ranging from baked pretzels and chicken wings to iced cappuccino and non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiris.

For some, however, the fair offered more than they had bargained for when a cable on the Ferris wheel broke Sunday afternoon, leaving eight riders stranded at the top, said Lt. Michael Gearheart of the Howard County Fire and Rescue Department. No one was injured.

"You heard a loud noise, and the ride suddenly stopped," recalled Tom Purcell of Ellicott City, who was with his wife and daughter on the ride. "You were kind of jolted on your back."

Firefighters and fair workers spent about 45 minutes freeing the frightened riders.

It was not soon enough for Purcell, who said it took about 20 minutes for firefighters to reach his family in their swinging seat.

"My wife was shaking like a leaf and saying 'we were going to die up here,' " said Purcell, who said it was the couple's first trip on b bTC Ferris wheel. "My wife and I are not frequent carnival-goers, but the Ferris wheel looked innocent enough."

Once they reached the ground, they got their money back and returned home. "We were . . . out of the park in 10 minutes," Purcell said.

For those who stayed, the Ferris wheel was back in operation by 7:30 p.m., said Columbia City Fair President Connie Matheson.

Earlier Sunday, fair-goers participated in Columbia's annual birthday Fun Run/Walk, a two-mile course through the Town Center. Trophies were presented to the first three male and female participants to finish.

There were also entries for the first father and 25th finisher in honor of the city's 25th anniversary.

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