Young and old welcome 2008

Baltimoreans gathered throughout the day yesterday to welcome the new year, from the younger set who began their revelry at Port Discovery about noon to the tens of thousands who crowded into the Inner Harbor to watch one of the city's biggest fireworks displays in nearly a decade.

"Get out the old, bring in the new, baby," said Brian Leigh, 42, who sported a flashing pair of glasses, with lenses that looped in a 2008 pattern. Hanging out with his girlfriend and son at the Inner Harbor, the Savage resident said it was his first year celebrating in the city. "It's an exciting time," he said.


As midnight approached, people bundled in blankets and overcoats as temperatures dipped into the 30s under relatively clear skies. Some chatted, others danced to live music.

Along with their four young sons, Dan and Deborah McClure enthusiastically counted 2007 into oblivion, their shouts joining a chorus that reverberated through city streets. Just as they finished, a cascade of lights exploded into the darkness above the harbor.


All four boys, who ranged in age from 6 months to 6 years, looked on in awe, each burrowed into his own stroller. Riley, who is almost 4, plugged his ears and took refuge next to his mother, a Coldstream Park Elementary School teacher. His twin brother, Liam, asked his parents why they didn't bring chips and dip.

"It's so much fun down here," said Dan McClure, who lives in White Marsh. "The weather is beautiful, there's so much positivity going on down here. It just feels great to be a part of Baltimore."

Moments earlier, Mayor Sheila Dixon helped lead a countdown to the new year. She told the crowd that her hope for 2008 was that Baltimore "will be the safest city in America."

"It's going to take all of us to make the city successful," she said.

Not all the celebrations included fireworks, partying or bawdy renditions of "Auld Lang Syne" - the perennial hymn of New Year's Eve. Some chose the more solemn environs of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church on Calvert Street, where about 500 people attended an interfaith service.

Standing at a lectern just a few feet from a nativity scene and an altar shrouded in the lush red of poinsettias, musicians and spiritual leaders of several faiths praised God in song and prayer as a prelude to the new year.

And, as in years past, representatives of various trades - artists, medical professionals, educators, public servants and others - offered supplication for all those who work in their fields.

"We place ourselves and our whole city under your constant care and protection," prayed Dixon.


Flo Harbold, 67, who has attended to the ceremony for the past six years, said she couldn't imagine a better way to welcome the coming year.

"It's hopeful, a great way to look forward, particularly in these terrible times we live in," she said.

Earlier yesterday, more than 1,000 people crammed into Port Discovery shortly before noon to do their own countdown, complete with hand-crafted numbers and loads of confetti.

Led by local television personality Bob Heck - better known as Maryland Public Television's Bob the Vid Tech - the crowd erupted in cheers, giving each other "Happy New Year" hugs and high-fives at the stroke of noon.

"I'm the Dick Clark of Port Discovery - except I'm not as old," Heck said.

Each year, the museum selects a different country to feature in its noontime New Year celebration.


This year, it was Japan. Though the museum featured a judo demonstration and an origami table in a nod to that country's heritage, most of the young visitors seemed more interested in climbing the ropes up to the enormous urban tree house or playing with the wonder widget toys.

Near the stage, Ruth Henry's two children, 5-year-old Claudia and 2-year-old Amelia, were dancing to Elvis' "Love Me Tender."

Henry, who was wearing a jester's hat in hopes of reminding people to smile more, said she and her husband would be going out tonight and that her kids would be sleeping, so the Noon New Year allowed them to celebrate together.

"It seemed like a good way to ring in the New Year with the kids - they're not much good at midnight," Henry said.

Asked if there were any special place she would like her mother to take her in 2008, 6-year-old Tessa Rhodes answered, "Hawaii."

Her 3-year-old brother, Gabriel, had a more doable request: "I want to go to the grocery store," he said.


Their parents, Amy and Thomas Rhodes, own Zeke's Coffee in Lauraville. But despite access to caffeine, the two planned to stay home last night - either sleeping or watching the ball drop on TV.

"With an opportunity to drink coffee," Thomas Rhodes said, "maybe I could make it to 12:05."