Sure, the Fourth of July is about being grateful to live in a democracy, remembering our nation's beginnings and listening to "Stars and Stripes Forever."
But living up to the tireless role of world power can cause the rest of the globe to overlook another hallmark American trait: its zaniness.
A ferret in a cowboy hat, a cow with moon glitter on its face, a bagpiper playing "You're A Grand Old Flag," a man in a sombrero singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the Mr. Potato Head beauty contest turned the grounds of the American Visionary Art Museum at 800 Key Highway in Baltimore yesterday into an Independence Day madhouse.
"There's a ferret with a cowboy hat that has won our hearts," Rebecca Hoffberger, museum founder and director, said before the third annual Pets on Parade. "In this age of virtual everything, pets still fill the void that other things can't," she said.
Pets such as Jenny Jones, the black-and-white cow with blue quarter-moon glitter on its face. Amy Iager of Maple Lawn Farms in Fulton, Howard County, has been lugging the showboat heifer, by far the largest entry, to Baltimore on the Fourth for the pet parades.
"It's really more to educate people who have never been to a farm," said Iager, 20. "More and more people are moving away from agriculture."
Jamoca, a Rodgers Forge Yorkshire terrier, instantly became a crowd favorite, circling the block in a cardboard Tall Ship while tucked under the masts in a tiny sailor uniform. "She loves it," said Nancy Wheeler, who with 11-year-old daughter Alena spent a week making the float. "Last year, she was an Air Force pilot."
Wheeler saw the parade as a vehicle for Baltimore residents to expose their creativity, people such as Alan Sun. The 35-year-old Butcher's Hill resident also went with the Tall Ship theme, rigging sails to the back of his dog, Rorschach, named for the psychological ink-blot tests.
The 80 entries included Queenie, only the third cat in the parade's short history. The tortoise-shell feline sat perched upon a pillowed throne in Arabian garb, in a float hauled by her owners, Maggie Meely and Lisa Friedman of Mount Washington.
The event also included the Mr. Potato Head beauty contest, where participants carved figures out of spuds. Another contest included building boats from aluminum foil, their sturdiness tested by placing marbles on them. A blueberry pie-eating contest, puppet show and zydeco band rounded out the festivities that began at 10 a.m. and were scheduled to continue until fireworks were set off last night at the Inner Harbor.
Felix Cartagena traveled from Newark, Del. His "Mr. Bubble" machine - a shopping cart hooked to a bucket of suds and a fan - rained bubbles on the crowd.
Of the events Cartagena attends each year, the museum celebration is a favorite, he said.
"It's the craziness," he said. "Baltimore is such a neat place, that's why they call it Charm City."