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Savoring the sweet taste of patriotism at Fourth of July parades around Baltimore

The sights and sounds from the 2018 Catonsville Fourth of July parade on Wednesday. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun video)

Five-year-old Lochlan Ball wiggled tummy first Wednesday morning onto the cannon with the oxidized green finish that stands outside the Baltimore County Historic Courthouse in Towson.

The cannon was captured 120 years ago in the Philippines, according to its inscription. By lying prone, young Loch hid an engraving of the Spanish crown, which ceded the Philippines to U.S. control at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898.

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As the Cockeysville boy lay there, thousands of people began singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” to begin Towson’s Fourth of July parade — one of the many celebrations of the military might that won independence in 1776 and expanded U.S. power in many wars since.

“Boom,” said Lachlan softly. Then, more loudly: “Boom!”

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“Boom,” indeed.

All over the Baltimore metropolitan area — from Annapolis to Arbutus, from Catonsville to Bel Air — tens of thousands of Maryland residents celebrated Independence Day by clapping along to the music of bagpipe bands and drum-and-bugle corps. They cheered for high-stepping high school students, antique fire trucks, armed forces veterans and even (some) politicians.

The two leading candidates in the Baltimore County executive campaign — state Sen. Jim Brochin and Johnny Olszewski Jr. — attended the Towson parade that encircled the government building they hope to work in if they emerge victorious from their nail-biting primary finish. The final 1,600 provisional ballots are being reviewed starting Thursday.

Brochin trails Olszewski by 42 votes.

The crowd gave no indication of which candidate might win, as both were greeted with the same friendly reception.

“The integrity of our elections is far too important to rush,” Olszewski said while also marching in Arbutus. “We ran a positive campaign, so this is a thank you to everyone for putting us in a position to be here today.”

Emily Slusher, 32, a Baltimore County schoolteacher, attended the Arbutus parade for the same reason many of her fellow spectators were also waving flags and cheering displays of patriotism.

“It’s about tradition and nostalgia,” Slusher said.

One of those traditions is the parade of politicians.

Yumi Hogan, the first lady of Maryland, attended Towson’s parade. So did Comptroller Peter Franchot. Gov. Larry Hogan marched in Kingsville.

The first lady was followed by the Democratic gubernatorial candidate who hopes to defeat her husband in November: Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP.

Jealous was joined Wednesday by several fellow Democrats: U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and Congressmen C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes.

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Towson parade chairman Mark Shulman said that when the weather is good, the event, which has been held for at least 124 years, reliably draws up to 60,000 viewers.

And the weather was good — if a bit steamy. It wasn’t cascading buckets of rain, as it did during the 2015 parade. The parade-time temperature Wednesday reached 93 degrees, instead of the triple digits recorded in downtown Baltimore on Tuesday. There was shade to be found. And, occasionally, a breeze could be felt.

William Piersante, 64, of Calgary, Canada, said that Yanks are more patriotic than his countrymen. He was attending Towson’s parade with his wife, son, daughter-in-law, and 3-year-old grandson Levi.

After a naturalization ceremony at William Pace House in Annapolis early Independence Day morning thirty people from across the globe no longer yearn to breathe free.

“People come out for Canada Day on July 1, but I think it’s more to have a good time than out of patriotism,” Piersante said. “People in the United States really love their country, and that’s something that I appreciate.”

It was hard to argue with him as the Calvert Hall College High School Marching Band, clearly a crowd favorite, paused in front of the reviewing station in Towson to perform a rousing rendition of George M. Cohan’s “You’re A Grand Old Flag.”

The Citywide Goldstarz, resplendent in red, white and blue bell bottoms, sashayed energetically to “America the Beautiful.” The Shriners drove their bright green motorized go-carts in circles while one driver raised a hand and flashed the “V” sign for victory. Or, was it “Vroom?”

Lochlan gaped skyward as two planes from 104th Squadron of the Maryland Air National Guard flew over the Towson parade — and paid their respects to the crowd by dipping their wings. Lochlan loves planes. He also likes the colorful flags that spin in dizzying circles and the rat-a-tat-tat of the drums.

“But what I like most is when they throw out candy,” he said.

Patriotism, it seems, is indeed sweet; the haul distributed on Wednesday to young parade-goers included red strips of licorice, white mints and blue lollipops.

In which our columnist suggests 10 ways good citizens can become great ones.

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