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Fairgrounds hosts thousands

July 05, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Thousands flocked to Fairgrounds Park for music, fun and fireworks Friday evening after a late-afternoon thunderstorm threatened the city's main Fourth of July event before it began.

The opening ceremony was postponed by 45 minutes to 6:45 p.m., but city officials estimated about 12,000 people from Washington County and surrounding areas came to the event, covering the park's ballfields and adjacent fields with blankets, cars and fold-up chairs.

Carlee Harbaugh, 12, and her mother, Bonnie Berger, of Williamsport, were several customers back in line for ice cream about 8 p.m. It was definitely ice cream weather, they said, and the bad weather earlier in the day hadn't deterred them.

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"It was perfect," Berger said. "It's pretty out here because the kids can run wild, and that's what they're doing."

The event was no doubt centered around family, attendees said.

Justin Sibert of Hagerstown, his wife, Kristen, and their toddlers, Jacob, Jessica and Julia, were seated on a blanket.

"This is our first (July 4) get-together at one time," Kristen Sibert said, making it a memorable family occasion.

Justin Sibert, 24, said that while it can be difficult to wrangle young children at a large gathering, he still was able to relax.

"Nothing to worry about. Just bring the kids out, have a good time waiting for the fireworks," he said.

By dusk, a cool breeze blew over the park, and people relaxed in comfort.

Lucille Russ, 55, of Hagerstown was sitting on the trunk of her car with her shoes off next to her granddaughter.

Earlier in the day, Russ' family went to a church gathering, then went home and ate watermelon and went to the fairgrounds at 6:30 p.m. Since then, she said kiddingly, she had been "sitting here, waiting for my daughter and granddaughter to come back from in line with my funnel cake."

While attendees noted the music - The Shades and Bill Haley's Comets played tunes until dusk - the fireworks were the main draw, they said.

This was the second year the city has sponsored a fireworks display, said Hagerstown spokeswoman Karen Giffin. The display cost $11,000 and fired 15,576 shells, she said.

Raul Soberanes, 24, of Hagerstown was at the park with his wife and young son. The three had sat as close to the fireworks as possible, near the orange mesh fencing that kept the public away from the pyrotechnics.

"It's been about three hours that we've been waiting here," Soberanes said.

He said he wanted to be closer because "there's been other times that I've seen them, but farther away," and there was much less emotion, he said.

Others chose to be as far away as possible.

Dan Otto, 33, and Beth Otto, 32, were with their three children at their minivan parked near the Fairgrounds entrance on Mulberry Street. With pizzas in the rear of the van and the tailgate open, they were ready to leave once the show was over.

"The music's good," Beth Otto said.

But, Dan Otto added, "We don't like big crowds too much - at least I don't."

Others couldn't wait for the main fireworks to start, so they brought their own.

Shawn Barlup, 20, of Greencastle, Pa., was lighting small fireworks called fountains where he was sitting.

"I wanted to get the professional ones, but they don't sell those around here," Barlup said. "It's something to do while you wait for the other ones to go off."

Once the real fireworks began, the sound of the rockets pounded through the air as viewers gazed into the sky and children shrieked with delight.

Eloise Morton, 80, of Williamsport watched as the fireworks came to a close.

"I think it's real nice," Morton said. "I think they're super, myself."

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