WASHINGTON — Americans from across the country gathered by the thousands under tight security and light rain Monday at the National Mall for the annual Fourth of July fireworks display, taking part in a holiday celebration that also included a parade and other events citywide.
Throngs picnicked on blankets, played volleyball and set up lounge chairs for the 17-minute fireworks show that started at 9:10 p.m., which marked the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Earlier in the day there was a recitation of the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives and a parade down Constitution Avenue. Parents balanced young children on their shoulders, vendors sold American flags and other red, white and blue paraphernalia and thousands of spectators lined the streets to see the procession of colorful marching bands, military-related floats and enormous inflatable marionettes of Fred Flintsone, Curious George, Uncle Sam and other characters.
Among the spectators was Thomas Zani, 37, a legal aid attorney from Steubenville, Ohio, who was with his wife visiting his niece. They planned to attend the fireworks Monday night.
“We wanted to see a grand-scale Fourth of July celebration,” he said. “There can’t be a better place in America to do that than the nation’s capital.”
Roger Anderson, a 64-year-old retired real estate broker from San Jose, Calif., was wrapping up an East Coast trip to Boston, New York and Washington, where he planned to take in the holiday for a firsthand look at all the “pomp and circumstance.”
“It’s sort of the bucket list thing. All the things you want to see or do” before you die, he said.
The U.S. Park Service has warned of heightened security around the Mall during the fireworks show.
Louie and Diana Marin of New York City were visiting Washington, where they attended a pro baseball game, went past the White House and visited the Smithsonian museums before seeing their first fireworks on the Mall.
“For years, back home in New York, we’ve been watching it on TV. We decided we wanted the experience” live, Louie Marin said.
Though this was the first July 4 since the killing by Navy SEALs of Osama bin Laden, the pair said they were not fazed by the security on the Mall.
“We really didn’t pay attention to that,” he said. “We’re a family that’s experienced 9/11.”
District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray used the holiday to repeat his call for autonomy from Congressional control over district affairs and for the district to have its own voting member of Congress. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton represents the district in Congress but cannot vote on the House floor. Gray was among dozens of demonstrators arrested in April outside the U.S. Capitol for protesting a federal budget deal that included restrictions on how the city could spend funds.
“The 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia are celebrating with fellow citizens and hope that someday soon all Americans will join us in celebrating our full independence,” the mayor said in a statement.
Donelle Bebault and her husband Ed, who live in suburban Minneapolis, decided to see the fireworks for the first time while visiting their daughter.
“We thought it would be pretty spectacular,” said Donelle Bebault, 51. “Just standing up and seeing the crowds, just being in the midst of it.”