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A warm welcome for 1999


Tens of thousands of Baltimoreans welcomed the New Year at a dazzling fireworks show at the Inner Harbor.

The sidewalks were mobbed as an estimated 125,000 people flooded the Inner Harbor and the music was so loud it was hard to hear Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's annual countdown to the New Year.

It was Schmoke's last New Year's Eve as mayor. "I don't really want to think about it being the last," he said. "I just want to have a good 1999."

Joerg Klausen, a post-doctoral student at the Johns Hopkins University from Zurich, Switzerland, and three Swiss friends were at the Inner Harbor, experiencing their first American New Year's Eve. In Switzerland, such celebrations are muted, they said.

"At 12: 00, we have church bells and then we hug and kiss," Klausen said early today. He described the Inner Harbor scene in a word: "Cool."

Before the fireworks, revelers flocked to the city's annual extravaganza at the Convention Center, where some sang to the accompaniment of karaoke machines and others danced to Latin, rhythm and blues, and other live music in the ballrooms.

In a space set aside for them, small children painted or played with blocks and toys and watched illusionists.

Hoping to get a glimpse of the future, people formed long lines for tarot card and palm readings.

There was free coffee, long lines for soda and soft pretzels, and a lot of horn blowing as revelers greeted 1999.

Baltimoreans Sharon and David Goodwin came to the Convention Center with their two young sons and David's younger sister, children ranging in age from 7 to 11.

Sharon Goodwin is six months' pregnant, and her husband "didn't want her bouncing around or too many people bumping into her," so they came to the annual smoke- and alcohol-free celebration at the center. "It's a big open space," he said.

It was the first time they had celebrated at the Convention Center. "Usually we stay home and watch TV," David Goodwin said.

Erin Mack, 15, of Arbutus came to the party with her parents and seven other relatives and friends.

"We really wanted to do something as a family," said Lisa Mack, Erin's mother. "They just started to want to dance this year," she said of her three daughters of whom Erin is the oldest. "And other than weddings, they can't dance because they can't go to nightclubs."

Annapolis also had one big party. From Calvert Street to the City Dock, revelers rocked, sang, danced and played their way into 1999.

"Its crazy, its fun, we really enjoy it," said Mick Vanwagoner, 15, of Annapolis.

In the state capital, streets were jammed with an estimated 15,000 merrymakers who rushed to catch as many of the 45 performers and artists as they could.

First Night Annapolis annually turns office buildings, courtrooms, classrooms, sidewalks and lobbies into stages for a few hours.

The Long & Foster realty office decorated its storefront window with gold stars and clouds. Inside, harpist Marthellen Hoffman was playing while speakers outside carried her notes into the street.

North of the capital, people flocked to the Baltimore Convention Center for a New Year's Eve Extravaganza that featured a midnight fireworks show in the Inner Harbor.

About 11: 30 p.m., the crowd at the Convention Center moved toward the Inner Harbor for the fireworks, unfazed by temperatures that dipped into the 20s and the threat of snow flurries.

First Night Annapolis, whose organizers ban alcoholic beverages, began about 3 p.m. with events for children that attracted overflow crowds, spokeswoman Erika McGrew said.

There was ballet and clogging, music from classical to zydeco, poetry from Poe to slam, and puppets and storytelling.

The event culminated with fireworks at midnight.

"We are going to St. Mary's High School for some bands," said Jeremiah Lyons. "That's basically what we're here for. We wouldn't be out in this cold if there weren't bands."

The flavor of First Night was evident in a stroll along Main Street: Businesses were decorated with tiny white lights, as were boats at dockside.

Minstrels in brightly colored robes threw confetti on revelers, and a giant "fish" danced to country and blues tunes that floated from building to building.

Loud, bundled-up throngs moved along the red brick streets, and the aroma of funnel cakes and coffee mingled in the cold air as crowds gathered outside Annapolis Shirt Co. to cheer a mime.

"We saw the gypsy dancer, but we're to see Poe," said Janice Binkley of Harwood.

In its ninth year, First Night Annapolis has become synonymous with New Year's Eve for many Marylanders.

"What First Night has done is created a generation of children who feel like the only way to celebrate the new year is with the arts," McGrew said.

The first year, First Night offered 83 performances by 27 artists or groups and drew a crowd of 8,000. In recent years, 18,000 to 24,000 people have turned out for New Year's Eve.

The event is paid for by arts grants, patrons, local businesses and visitors who buy $14 buttons to attend.

Pub Date: 1/01/99

Sun staff writer Alice Lukens contributed to this article.

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