Originally created 07/05/99

Holiday festivities beat heat

Locals threw Uncle Sam one heck of a birthday party Sunday.

Area residents crowded into street festivals, theaters and fireworks shows to celebrate Independence Day.

In Augusta, hundreds gathered at Riverwalk Augusta for the city's annual Fourth of July celebration. People milled through booths filled with arts and crafts, dined on American fare such as hot dogs and hamburgers, and tapped their feet along with rock bands beating out classics in 4/4 time.

Some people colonized grassy spots and shady alcoves along the Savannah River's banks, picking vantage points for the night's fireworks show hours before its scheduled 9:30 p.m. start.

Greg Woods was one of those people. He lazed in a folding chair near a picnic table, trying to outlast a late-afternoon spurt of humidity wafting from the river's edge.

"It is hot out here," he said. "You could write that down and underline it twice."

A few yards farther along the walk, Glen Davis sat on a bulkhead with friend Dawn NeSmith, slowly sipping beer from a tall tulip-shaped stein. He had little trouble explaining why he chose to stake his claim there.

"It's the shade, the river, the ambience, and I'm tired of walking," he said, laughing.

Nearby, Fort Gordon soldiers prepared to open the night's show with the literal bang of five 75 mm howitzers. The cannons squatted on the brick path, lined in a neat row, as the co-ed team hustled around them.

The howitzers were commissioned in 1941 and used during World War II, said Pfc. Michael Brent. They also are very, very loud, the troops explained, reaching a jackhammering 105 decibels if heard at close range.

"It will shake your face," said Pfc. Gary Scott, without a hint of whimsy in his voice.

Judging from the gasps and sighs of the crowd, the show was worth the wait.

With heads tilted toward the twilight sky, celebrants gazed at the colored streaks of flaming ash that rained upon the river below. Some showered in great arcs, like flares from ships at sea; others whistled twists and twirls through the night sky.

"I think they are pretty good, and colorful," said David Greer, 8, of Springfield, Va., sitting on the riverbank with his mother. "I like them when they are rainbows."

Misfortune caused a few Augustans to miss the show. Residents trying to make a last-minute dash downtown from Gordon Highway were slowed by a four-vehicle accident 20 minutes before the show started.

None of the 14 people involved was injured, but a mother and her child from Augusta complained of pains and were treated at the scene, witnesses said.

The accident occurred when Randy Ferron of Hephzibah slammed on his brakes for stalled traffic, and three cars behind him could not stop in time.

Across the river in Aiken County, a long line of contract employees streamed from an Avondale Mills Inc. plant in Graniteville just after the 4 p.m. whistle signaled their workday's end.

Worker Ryan Ergle of Warrenville waited until late afternoon and headed to Langley Pond to fish for bass. He wasn't going to let an eight-hour work day ruin his Fourth of July tradition.

Asked how he normally spends Independence Day, he said, "Normally, I spend it not at work."

In Aiken, Public Safety Director Pete Frommer signed a city permit allowing a group of 75 family members and friends to close the 500 block of Saluda Street for a block party, complete with barbecue and dance music.

High temperatures set the stage for a wet block party. Children were dripping wet by 5:30 p.m. when the Aiken Department of Public Safety brought a fire truck and connected it to the nearest hydrant.

Cpl. Sandra Rogers and Officer Rick Brown let loose a deluge gun that sprayed water half a block, pouring 1,200 gallons a minute to the delight of two dozen barefoot children.

"I'm about ready to run through it myself," Cpl. Rogers said as she wiped sweat from her forehead.

Columbia County residents marked the holiday with two major events, the annual barbecue in Grovetown and the public celebration at Patriots Park.

The free barbecue at Goodale Park, sponsored by Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau, featured a variety of entertainers and a lot of food. The mayor said he was pleased with the turnout.

"It gets better every time," he said. "My favorite part is serving food to the citizens. The whole crowd comes out and you get to see people that you don't see at other points in the year."

Residents began enjoying Patriots Park, with its gospel music and sporting grounds, from the time the gates opened, event chairman Bobby Waters said, adding that he expected the park to fill by nightfall.

"People are putting out blankets, having picnics," Mr. Waters said. "That's what this is all about."

Brandon Haddock, Greg Rickabaugh and Benjamin Carr can be reached at (706) 724-0851 or newsroom@augusta chronicle.com.


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