Catonsville Fourth of July a day-long celebration

Catonsville resident Jeff Brooks doesn't set his family's chairs out along Frederick Road days, even weeks, before the renowned annual Fourth of July parade.

Brooks, along with about 15 family members and friends, watches the parade from a piece of 30-foot tall scaffolding tower.

"It's a scaffolding like construction people use," the 48-year old, whose home is on Frederick Road near the Catonsville Library, said.

"My neighbor friend is a contractor," he said. "So every year we put it together and make a big party out of it."

Both the American flag and the Maryland flag waved from atop the tower and Brooks cheered and waved at the various parade participants including community organizations like the Hillcrest and Westchester Elementary School Parent Teacher Associations, various marching bands including one from University of Maryland Baltimore County, a roller skating squad, restaurants and churches.

He even ran a hose from his front yard up into the tower and was using it to spray water at parade walkers who looked like they could use a cool down in the hot July sun.

He said he and his family love climbing up and down the tower each year and experiencing the parade in a way no one else can.

"It's the vantage point," Brooks said. "Being able to see the parade from a different viewpoint."

The event began with a mini-parade of sorts featuring a host of fire engines, ambulances and emergency units from the Arbutus and Violetville Volunteer Fire Departments, Baltimore County Fire Department, the Arbutus Swiftwater Rescue Squad and more.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Councilman Tom Quirk all made appearances along the route.

Many attendees and participants wore a variety of colorful tiaras in memory of Teresa Bartlinski, the 6-year-old girl who died Monday from a congenital heart disease after a failed transplant.

Catonsville resident Jason Kaplanis and his 4-year-old son Ben Kaplanis sought shelter from the sun in the shade in front of Trax on Wax midway through the event.

"I grew up here and then moved away for about seven years and came back," Jason Kaplanis said. "I think it's one of the best parades in Maryland and the fireworks are awesome too."

He said he really enjoyed seeing the variety of different participants, especially Jim Wharton, the recently-retired, former music teacher at Catonsville High School and leader of the school's steel drum band.

"I had him 20 years ago," Kaplanis said. "It's (also) nice to see the county executive and the Ravens band."

Starting at about 1 p.m. parade goers could hydrate and fuel up in the parking lot behind the Mosaic Community Services building on Bloomsbury Avenue at the cookout and beer garden hosted by The Catonsville Rotary.

The event was the first of what organizer Cal Oren hopes to become an annual tradition.

"We noticed that there were no real food and beverage sales during the parade and on the parade route," Oren said.

He said they partnered with Mosaic to use the space and by 5 p.m. had seen over 100 people come through the space where hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, snowballs, soft drinks and The Raven craft beer were for sale.

"We like to do things in the community, for the community," Oren said of the rotary club.

Earlier in the day, Dorothy Biernack gathered with her daughter Kristin Neville and grandsons TJ Knipe and Logan Neville to participate in the annual Catonsville kids games event.

The games, sponsored by the Catonsville Mens Civic Association, began at 9:30 and ran for about two hours, giving families an opportunity to start their holiday playing a host of games entirely for free.

"I did do it as a kid," the now 50-year-old Biernack said.

She took her children to the games when they were old enough and now watches her grandsons and their friends participate every year.

"I'm excited to see my children (here) and cheer just as loud for my grandchildren," she said. "We've only missed it if it's rained."

Kelvin Carney was there with his daughters, 2-year-old Syrian Carney and 4-year-old Emlyse Carney, who participated in the various events including leap frog, spoon balance and sack races.

"They love it," Kelvin Carney said of his girls. "They just love being in the middle of all the crazy."

"The whole Catonsville Fourth is just absolutely awesome," he said. "It's just like (a) small town exploded."

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