Harvard defies heat, celebrates Fourth of July

Temperatures hovered in the low 90s when the gates at Fruitlands opened at 5 p.m. Monday, July 2, but an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people defied the heat wave to attend the annual Fourth of July festivities. Volunteers from the Lions Club directed a steady stream of cars onto the grassy parking lot as residents and visitors settled down for an evening of music, picnicking, and fireworks. Blankets were spread, coolers opened, and bug spray applied. The aroma of grilled sausages and fried dough floated over the hillside, as the sun inched westward and the sky slowly darkened.

Waving their pinwheels and glow toys, the youngest spectators chased one another tirelessly while adults sat still, recovering from the day’s unrelenting heat and humidity. But temperatures dropped perceptibly as soon as the sun slipped below a cloud bank above Mount Wachusett.

The event drew people from far beyond Harvard’s borders. A survey of spectators in just a small area of the field found families from Boxborough, Acton, Townsend, Framingham, Quincy, and Stoughton. “This is by far the best,” a Framingham resident said of the Fruitlands setting and fireworks, explaining that she had been coming here for many years.

In two of the past three years, the fireworks drew attendance estimated at 6,000 to more than 10,000, but this year the crowd seemed both smaller and quieter. Perhaps the higher $30 admission fee (with no discount for wearing the 2018 T-shirt) reduced attendance, or perhaps the day’s oppressive heat led some people to avoid the outdoor gathering.

From 5:30 p.m. until full darkness, the crowd was treated to the music of some favorite local groups—Wendy Darling and the Lost Boy, the Ashley Jordan Band, Alright, and Bare Hill. After the band closed with David Bowie’s “Heroes,” Bare Hill’s lead singer Don Sugai gave a shoutout of thanks to those in the audience who were currently in the military, or were veterans, police officers, or firefighters. It was a fitting tribute, given that Harvard’s theme for the holiday this year was remembrance of those who served in World War I a century ago.

Fireworks explode in front of the crowd at Fruitlands, Monday, July 2. (Photo by Lisa Aciukewicz)

The first skyrockets exploded over the field at 9:20 p.m. For the next half hour they filled the sky with bursting cascades of red, white, and blue sparks; whistling balls of colored fire; and spinning fiery fish that vanished into the dark. Their rumbling echoes bounced back from the hillside, building to a crescendo in the thunderous finale.

Then sleepy children were bundled back into cars. Perhaps because there were more exits than in previous years, or perhaps just because the crowd was smaller, the departure seemed to go more smoothly than it sometimes has.

The oppressive heat still blanketed the town when the the official holiday rolled around on Wednesday, July 4. Nevertheless, hundreds of residents and guests lined the parade route from Town Hall to the schools, seeking shade along the Common wherever it could be found.

The Police Department led off the parade, lights flashing and sirens blaring, shortly after 11 a.m. They were followed by flag-bearers Dennis Lyddy and Loren Johnson, with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts following close behind. A flatbed truck from Moore Lumber & Hardware of Ayer carried the Nashoba Valley Concert Band, and Tony Shaw drove the 1925 fire engine that traditionally leads the contingent of antique vehicles. Slough Road resident Bob Blanck’s gleaming 1911 Cadillac was the oldest vehicle in this year’s procession of antique cars.

Honored citizens

Parade Grand Marshals Steve and Nancy Cronin pose for a photo. (Photo by Richard Jenson)

Steve and Nancy Cronin were honored as the grand marshals of the parade, flashing smiles from a red Mercedes convertible. In a statement, Fourth of July Committee Chair Anne Hentz said the members had chosen the Cronins because “they represent the finest in an American military family as well as citizens of our wonderful town.” Steve and Nancy both served in the United States Army, Nancy as a Medical Service Corps officer and Steve for 20 years as an air defense artillery officer. Their daughters were raised both in Germany and Harvard as well as on other posts where the Cronins were stationed. Dick Cronin, Steve’s father, served as town moderator for years. The Cronin Auditorium at the Bromfield School is named in his honor.

Pat Jennings, decked out in red, white and blue, was celebrated as this year’s Citizen of Note, riding in a white Mercedes convertible. Both cars were provided by Alpha Motors, an event sponsor.

Rocco Mahoney and Rachel Graham, the two student winners of the art contest to design the yearly T-shirts, also received VIP treatment, each getting a parade car ride.

Dancers from the Harvard Academy of Dance perform in the parace. (Photo by Tom Aciukewicz)

A flashmob from the Harvard Academy of Dance wowed spectators with an elaborately choreographed dance performance of “Let It Grow” from the 2012 movie “The Lorax” at the town center intersection. And the Dragonfly Wellness Center drew all eyes with a display of bright balloons in the shape of—what else?—dragonflies.

Two mounted state troopers rode their tall, patient horses, following the slow-moving procession down to the field in front of the library. But this year, perhaps because of the heat, they did not remain for long after the parade ended. Chris Ashley of Woodside Road used the occasion to unveil a hand-built prototype of the classic Chris Craft-like boat he plans to manufacture at his new company, King Hell Boats, LLC. Ashley said the name was inspired by Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,“ where the author wrote: “In a scene where nobody with any ambition is what they appear to be, there’s not much risk in acting like a King Hell freak.”

The town’s five fire trucks brought up the rear of the parade, sirens blaring, to the joy of small children and the consternation of their parents and other adults. As Tower Truck 1, the great white whale of the department, passed through the Ayer and Still River roads intersection, parade onlookers fell in behind and made their way to Bromfield’s lacrosse field, where the day’s activities continued.

Caroline Hentz, a 2017 Bromfield graduate and daughter of Anne Hentz, sang the national anthem as the flag was raised in front of Old Bromfield. She was followed by Phoebe von Conta and Grace Hickey, who performed an up-tempo “America the Beautiful,” accompanying themselves on guitars.

Then it was on to the games. A new hit was the human foosball game, created by Wade Holtzmann and built with help from Bill Johnson and Carl Sciple. Because each player stood in a fixed position along the sliding poles, many different sizes and ages could play together in reasonable equality.

The traditional pie-eating contest proceeded messily by age group, with Laughlin Hentz, Caroline’s brother, emceeing, “Get ready, get set, EAT!” And a steady line of kids waited for a chance to climb the greased pole for the dollar bills clipped along its upper reaches. The candy scramble offered another chance for kids to stash away goodies in bags already partly filled with candy loot tossed from the parade cars.

This year’s celebrations were the first to have the support of local businesses, according to Anne Hentz. Nine were given formal recognition in event publicity. Sponsors provided cash and in-kind contributions. Use of Fruitlands for the fireworks display, for example, was arranged by the Trustees of Reservations, which publicized the event in a mailing to its members. Roche Brothers provided pies and eggs for field events.

All across the field, sunny areas were almost deserted, and people clustered in the pools of shade under trees and canopies—their only concession to the scorching temperatures. After all, the Fourth of July comes but once a year.


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