From rockets’ red glare to three-legged races, Harvard’s July 4 is a crowd pleaser

Once again, the Fourth of July Committee pulled off two of the town’s biggest events back-to- back with nary a hitch. Weather for the fireworks and concert July 3 and the parade and events July 4 was perfect, although a bit toasty with temperatures hovering near 90 degrees both days. The fireworks drew an audience numbering well into the thousands, arriving by car, by bicycle, and—for the first time—by busloads from the center of town. Crowds for the parade the next morning were five or six deep along Ayer Road near the Common, and even finding a spot to watch the pie-eating contest later in the day proved tricky.

Buses ease fireworks traffic

Early Wednesday evening three school buses lined up in the Bromfield School turnaround, ready to ferry passengers to Fruitlands for the music and fireworks. People carrying folding chairs, blankets, and coolers paid their $10 fares at the nearby table and got berry-purple stamps on their hands. For many, it was probably their first trip on a school bus in quite a while.

In the interest of speed, drivers left when their buses were half full or even less, which minimized both waiting time for passengers and unloading time at the other end. Asked how many trips she had made that evening, one driver said she had lost count.

The buses shuttled back and forth between Bromfield and Fruitlands from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Only the shuttles were allowed to take Prospect Hill Road north from Still River Road to Fruitlands, allowing them to avoid the line of cars backed up in the other direction, waiting to enter the grass parking area.

Once again, the Harvard Lions Club directed parking. Organizer Joe Schmidt estimated the parking crew guided about 950 cars into the Fruitlands lot. He said that number seemed to be up slightly from last year. He also thought people had come from a wider range of towns, including Chelmsford and Holden, perhaps as a result of the event’s mention in Boston magazine.

Fourth of July Committee Chair Anne Hentz, who has led the committee for the past six years, estimated the total attendance at more than 8,000. But no final figures for admission money or bus ridership were available at press time.

Fireworks explode over Fruitlands. (Photo by Stephen Into.)  MORE PHOTOS

The west-facing slopes of Fruitlands were occupied by picnickers: families on blankets, others in folding chairs. The air was damp, as temperatures remained near 80 degrees under a clear sky. The light breeze smelled of cut grass, fried dough, and insect repellent. There were lines at the red and white Dylan and Pete’s ice cream truck, as well as the two rows of port-a-potties. Wine and a cold beer were available at the Fruitlands tent.

As the sun sank behind the hills beyond Devens, the grand slope at Fruitlands came alive with glow sticks and phone screens. Children, aglow with red, green, orange, purple, and blue headgear, necklaces, earrings, and more fanciful designs, darted through the crowd like blithe spirits. “Here we go folks,” declared Bare Hill Band leader Don Sugai as he led his performers through a final set of hard rock classics. At roughly 9:15 p.m., as the last electric chord died, the sound stage was dimmed and fireworks by American Thunder of North Reading began—a 20-minute display of rockets, contrails, waterfalls, star bursts, and a final bam-bam-bam-bam-bam that drew applause and sighs of satisfaction.

When the last echoes of the spectacular finale had faded, the crowd dispersed quickly, some to cars, others to the three school buses waiting at the Fruitlands entrance. On the return trip, each bus was packed to near capacity, 53 adults being the maximum, according to one driver. The trip back to town took less than 10 minutes to the drop-off at the General Store. From there, concert goers switched on phones and flashlights and made their way to cars and home.

Harvard loves a parade

The parade kicked off just after 11 a.m. as police car sirens blared and impatient children grabbed the first of many pieces of candy thrown by parade participants. Veteran Dennis Lyddy, who served in the military from 1980 to 2004, was this year’s lone flag-bearer. He was followed by the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and the parade’s Grand Marshal Carlene Phillips. This year’s citizens of note, Pete and Kathy Jackson, also rode in the parade, along with one of the two T-shirt design winners, Jackie Beauchemin, who will be entering fourth grade at Hildreth Elementary School.

Public safety was fully represented by three police cruisers, an ambulance with many of the town’s volunteer EMTs, and eight fire trucks, including the antique 1947 Maxim fire truck driven by firefighter Dave Hazel and the 1965 B-Model Mack driven by Deputy Chief Charlie Nigzus. Two mounted state policeman, Evan Mastera and Joe Chiampa, based at stables in Acton, also took part, riding Ben and Scott, a pair of Clydesdale-Hackney cross horses.

Political participants included Select Board members Lucy Wallace, Rich Maiore, and Stu Sklar, who pushed his dog Coco, a frequent visitor to Town Hall, in a stroller outfitted with a small fan. Senator Jamie Eldridge marched with a large contingent of his supporters from all the towns in his district, followed directly by the League of Women Voters.

Girls softball float a big hit

The winner of the best-in-parade ribbon was the girls softball float titled “Rock On.” More than two dozen members of both town and school softball teams decorated and rode the float, accompanied by an all-coach rock band that serenaded onlookers with tunes such as Kiss’s “Rock and Roll All Night.” Band leader Dave Kilkenny of Slough Road said the foursome had gotten together only a week earlier. The float sported the slogan “Stop talking and swing the bat!” and stopped in the center of town so the girls could perform their favorite cheers, including “We want a single, just a little single …”

Westward Orchards, celebrating its 100th year, won second place with a float decorated with donuts, vegetables, and fruit made of paper mache by owner Don Green. Don’s son Chris drove the tractor that pulled the float, while Don and other family members tossed small bags of cider donut holes to spectators. The beach staff float, titled “Guards of the Galaxy,” earned a third-place ribbon and featured cardboard rocket ships and water guns.

Bruce Carlson drove the tractor that pulled Carlson Orchards’ apple-festooned float. His brothers Frank and Robert rode on the float along with about a dozen of the Jamaican pickers who are working at the orchard this summer.

A total of 27 antique cars, four antique trucks, and an antique Ford 861 Powermaster tractor drove the parade route, although at least two vehicles fell victim to the heat and the slow pace. Old Mill Road resident Pablo Carbonell had to turn off the overheated engine of his 1970 Ford 250 pickup at the top of the hill next to Town Hall and push the truck to the bottom and off to a side street. Ely Mazmanian’s 1970 MG Midget also had to stop for a cooldown next to the General Store.

As the parade ended, the afternoon’s events kicked off with a flag-raising ceremony, followed by Bromfield graduate J Woolcock, wearing the rainbow colors of pride, singing an a cappella version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Woolcock was followed by Bromfield sophomore Rachel Molnar singing “America the Beautiful,” with ninth-grader Logan Houston providing a mellow jazz-chord accompaniment. Hungry residents quickly lined up at the Lions Club’s food stand, where the club’s lobster roll, which sold out by 1 p.m., proved to be the favorite of the day.

Master of Ceremonies Pat Cooper of Bolton Road officiated the various afternoon events, including pie eating, sack racing, and egg tossing—something for every age. She kept it lively, calling out when a few eggs splattered to the ground, “We have some breakage—the yolk’s on you!”

A new event, water polo, proved popular as the afternoon heat continued. Set up by firefighters, it consisted of two teams armed with fire hoses facing each other, each team trying to spray a soccer ball past the other team. By about 3 p.m., the last egg had been tossed, and the crowd had thinned considerably. Hentz and a group of volunteers took on the final task of cleanup, then headed home for a well-earned rest.

Grand Marshal - Carlene Phillips

This year’s grand marshal, Carlene Phillips, moved to Harvard in 1975. She retired 16 years ago after teaching English for 30 years at Acton-Boxborough High School. She has served on the Council on Aging board, the HES School Council, and was a member of the school’s strategic planning committee. Carlene is currently a writer and proofreader at the Harvard Press, is a docent at Fruitlands, leads a memoir group at the library and a book discussion group at the Council on Aging, and is active in the Garden Club and the Historical Society.

Carlene’s three children live in Harvard and have raised their own children here.

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