Fourth of July: Summer and joy in South Sound
Grateful patriots saluted veterans. Vintage planes played tag with gravity. Rockets glared red, and green, gold, blue and purple.
On the first fine day of summer, people who knew better forgot their sunscreen, and that ice cream has calories. On the first warm and starry night of summer, thousands of them ignored fireworks bans in cities and restrictions on explosives pretty much everywhere.
Into the evening, even in cities that ban fireworks, the air smelled of gunpowder.
It was a classic Fourth of July in the South Sound.
Thousands of people flocked to the shore of Commencement Bay for the city’s 33rd annual Freedom Fair, a daylong celebration that stretches for more than a mile along Ruston Way.
Despite special express bus service from park-and-ride lots, most chose to drive, clogging residential streets throughout North Tacoma from 10 a.m. through the evening.
As always, the city closed Ruston Way to traffic for the celebration, turning the waterfront street into a crowded pedestrian promenade lined with food booths, vendors and special attractions that included bands, a car show, a pole vault competition and – the prime attractions – an afternoon air show and a nighttime fireworks display.
Freedom Fair organizers, chronically short of funds, made an effort to charge admission to the event, $5 for adults and $1 for kids. The sheer volume of people made the job difficult.
At the main entrance, downhill from The Spar tavern on North 30th and McCarver streets, cheerleaders from University Place Junior Viking Cheer organization arranged themselves across the road in an attempt to funnel people through the admissions gate.
Sara Baydo, the group’s coordinator, redirected people walking around, saying, “Down the middle, down the middle.”
“We kind of get the rolled-eyes type of a deal from some people,” Baydo said, “but everybody seems to be pretty happy.”
The afternoon air show, which began shortly before 2 p.m., was centered over Commencement Bay, but the aviation acts were visible – and audible – throughout most of the city.
The aerial acrobats included a deafening F-22 Raptor, a single-seat, twin-jet fighter flying in tandem with a P-51 Mustang; a U.S. Navy F-18F tactical demonstration; and a “sentimental journey” by a B-17G Flying Fortress manufactured in 1945.
Among the stranger attractions along the waterfront was a stage where people could “Bob for Bills.” The sponsor, Warm 106.9 FM radio, set up a child’s swimming pool, filled it with crumpled-up $1 and $5 bills and let people remove as much money as they could in a minute and six seconds, using only their mouths.
Marla Chandler, 44, of Tacoma, was an enthusiastic participant, rooting in $67 in the allotted time.
“It’s hard,” Chandler said afterward. “You kind of get dizzy or disoriented throwing your head in the pool.”
Chandler said she didn’t care what she looked during the effort.
“I’m going to use the money to buy a nice steak for barbecuing,” she said.
Jim Vettori, Olympia Veterans of Foreign Wars’ representative on a float in Tumwater’s Fourth of July Parade, said this year’s crowd was the biggest he has seen.
And Vettori, a Korean War veteran, has been participating in the parade since it began in 1987.
“Patriotism is not dead,” Vettori said of the crowd of thousands who lined up along Capitol Boulevard to wave the Stars and Stripes and watch the parade’s 110 entries.
Bob Thompson, also a Korean War veteran, joined Vettori on the float to represent Tumwater’s VFW post.
“Today’s our country’s birthday,” Thompson said. “I hope everybody honors it. I had five brothers and we all served. It was a tradition back then.”
The star of this year’s parade was its grand marshal, Tumwater police dog Otis, a black German shepherd accompanied by his handler, Tumwater police officer Russ Mize.
And with elections heating up with July’s warmer weather, candidates for both Thurston County and statewide offices rode on a number of floats.
But for 6-year-old Henry Wilson and many other children who watched the parade, the classic cars, hot rods, old and new Mustangs and Corvettes were the main attraction.
“I want to see a burnout,” said Jaden Whitfield, 10.
Angie Roberts and friend Jenny Wilson added that their children also were excited to see the cars.
“The hot rods for sure” were a highlight for the kids, Wilson said.
Transportation was a big theme with the floats on the parade route from Lee Street to Israel Road near Tumwater High School. A Vietnam War-era U.S. Army helicopter made the trip on an Olympic Flight Museum float featuring. A Viking ship plied the roads on a Sons of Norway, Olympia chapter, float.
Notable parade participants included 2011 Lakefair Queen Michaela Kier and drill teams and cheerleading squads from Thurston County schools. Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza rode in the county’s SWAT team truck.
Six goats marched alongside the Thurston County 4-H Club’s “Goat Float,” which was adorned with a sign reading “No Goats, No Glory.” Tammy Schallon, a 4-H volunteer, said the goats are trained to march in parades and can withstand the high temperatures of July, even while dressed in silly Fourth of July costumes.
“They’re more well-taken-care-of than the kids,” Schallon joked. “The kids we don’t give water, but the goats we sure do.”
Jonel Wachtnan watched the parade with her 5-year-old granddaughter Kaylana Reynolds. Wachtnan, of Tumwater, said all three of her sons serve in the military, and her middle son just returned from a tour in Afghanistan with a shrapnel wound. She said the Fourth of July has a special meaning for her family.
“It was his second deployment,” she said of her middle son. “Over 40 of the 150 soldiers in his company were wounded or killed.”
Angie Roberts of Tumwater said she makes a point of watching the parade every year.
“It’s a great hometown family parade,” Roberts said. “Always a great time.”
The streets of Washington’s oldest town came alive as its residents celebrated Independence Day at their annual parade and street fair.
The festivities began at 9 a.m. with street fair merchants opening for business. By the time the parade got under way at 1 p.m., it was standing room only along Rainier, Main and Lafayette streets.
“It’s great to see such a good turnout,” John Owens said. “The city always does a fantastic job putting this whole thing on.”
The hourlong parade featured pirates brandishing cutlasses, swaggering and snarling “Yarghs.” Cheerleaders pumped pompons and showed off their holiday spirit. Young children tricked out their bikes in red, white and blue, and classic cars flew Old Glory from their antennas.
With patriotism brimming in a town rich with military retirees, parade watchers applauded military veterans on the Veterans of Foreign Wars float as it drove past.
With the primary election scheduled for next month, the campaign trail intersected with the parade route. Passionate Republicans and Democrats handed out stickers, signing voters up for mailing lists and, in one case, simply screaming their candidate’s name at the top of their lungs.
After the parade, patrons went back to enjoy the street fair.
They purchased crafts and clothing at the scores of tents along Lafayette Street. Attendees sank their teeth into a range of goodies, such as baked salmon and elephant ears. Others wet their whistles and cooled off in the beer garden.
At the end, Steilacoom lit up the South Sound sky with its signature fireworks show.