Independence Day celebrations across the region set the pace for post-dusk fireworks displays that burst across skylines.
The holiday-capping pyrotechnics emanated from communities across Western New York, from the Chautauqua Institution to the University at Buffalo’s North Campus lookout at Baird Point and the Lewiston Plateau in the namesake village.
At Canalside in downtown Buffalo, revelers by the thousands streamed under the Skyway and across the Commercial Slip’s signature span to take part in an evening of patriotic entertainment that started with a flag-folding ceremony and ended with the flash and bang of fireworks.
By 7 p.m., a full three hours before the fireworks show was scheduled to begin, folks were already staking out their spots on the lawn or laying claim to some of Canalside’s brightly colored Adirondack chairs. People could be seen swaying to the smooth tunes provided by the George Scott Big Band of Buffalo’s own Colored Musicians Club, and later by local soul artist Michael King. At the pier, boats were moored two-across, with many American flags fluttering from masts.
Mayor Byron W. Brown was on hand to greet revelers – 15,000 were expected to attend the fireworks display. He called the celebration “a great sign of the growth and development that’s taking place at Canalside and downtown.”
In Riverside, a family-oriented, crowd set up camp along Niagara Street for the annual parade near Riverside Park.
Meanwhile, in the City of Tonawanda, competitors downed plates of hot dogs in the name of charity.
Fire truck sirens wailed down Tonawanda Street during the 1:30 p.m. River Rock parade, which showcased several community groups and youth sports teams. Dora the Explorer and Dr. Seuss showered candy on young onlookers, who rushed the street for the sweet treats.
“It’s been a tradition in my whole family every year since it started,” said Margaret Bolock, 63, mirroring the sentiments of several in attendance, who made their way out for old times sake.
Amy Trzaska thought of her late father, Zigmunt, who served in the Vietnam War, as she sat shaded by a tree with her young children. “He was proud to be a soldier,” said Trzaska, 31. “He was big on freedom.”
Trzaska’s daughter, 4-year-old Kylie, wore a single strand of red-white-and blue beads in her hair, with the flag well represented on her dress.
As he basked in the camaraderie and fellowship among those lining the sidewalk, Larry Benn, 37, reflected on the freedoms that allow citizens to pursue the American Dream. “To me, a parade is America,” said Benn, accompanied by his wife and young daughter.
Further down the parade route was Mae McDonald, 53, dressed for the occasion in a shimmering silver top, red shorts and blue flip-flops as she greeted family and friends.
A parade veteran of at least 30 years, McDonald began trading trinkets with friends for Independence Day. One year, she received a fabric bracelet with the American flag printed on it. Another year, it was a blue coin purse decorated with silver stars – which now carries her cellphone. This year’s trinket was a blue light-up ring, best reserved for the nighttime festivities.
Earlier Thursday, McDonald cleared her closet of the trinkets accumulated over the years, accessorizing her outfit with necklaces and bracelets aplenty.
“I bring out my red, white and blue ... just to show my spirit,” McDonald said.
In the City of Tonawanda, spectators were on hand at Old Man River restaurant, watching a hot dog eating contest that raised money for North Tonawanda Meals on Wheels. Through contest entry fees and raffle ticket sales, the organization is projected to raise about $600, said Gary Rockenbrock, a North Tonawanda Meals on Wheels board member and volunteer.
The contest was preceded by a relatively tame “bunny dog” eating contest, which featured contestants scarfing down steamed carrots on a bun. Old Man River employee Rene Hudson, 19, defended her title for the second consecutive year after consuming six bunny dogs – five shy of her 11 consumed last year.
“I’m surprised that I even put two down,” Hudson said, “Never thought I’d eat another again.”
Hot dog-eating contest winner Jon Juliano entered the competition at the last minute. In underdog fashion, Juliano emerged victorious when Bob Hakes tried unsuccessfully to down one more hot dog in the contest’s final seconds. At the end of the 10-minute competition and after consuming eight hot dogs, Juliano likened his post-contest condition to having “ingested a baby whale.”
Jokes aside, Juliano said he was happy to spend the holiday afternoon helping give to a good cause.
“I really care about my city. I care about my country,” he said. “Really, it’s about giving back.”
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