Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Event adds Takoma Park flavor to Fourth

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Leah L. Jones⁄ Special to The Gazette
Amita Chatterjee, 6, and Maalini Chatterjee, 4, watch Friday’s 119th annual Independence Day celebration and parade in Takoma Park. They attended with their sister, Priya, and mother, Gillian.
On any other day, onlookers might be surprised at the sight of a belly dancer prancing her way down Carroll Avenue or a dog jumping through a hula-hoop in front of the Takoma Park Maryland Library.

But on July 4, residents and those who have made it a tradition to travel to Takoma Park have become accustomed to seeing unique aspects of the community at the annual Takoma Park 4th of July Parade.

Friday’s festivities, the 119th edition of the parade, proved to be no different. Local dignitaries, international musical acts and advocacy groups walked the parade route. Some parade-watchers staked out positions as early as 9 a.m., an hour before the parade started.

Spectators and organizers said the combination of traditional parade favorites with elements of political advocacy and distinctive performances is what makes the parade so popular.

‘‘It’s become something that defines Takoma Park as a community and it really highlights the small-town character we have in this big metropolitan area,” said Terry Seamens, president of the Takoma Park Independence Day Committee and a member of the Takoma Park City Council. ‘‘That’s the hometown flavor that it gives to the parade by letting the local groups participate in it and advocate for their causes.”

Local groups included the Ritchie Avenue Citizens Association, which was awarded first prize in the civic group category for its pedal-powered Toyota Prius. A girl sat on the roof of the car and steadily pushed a set of bicycle pedals connected to the vehicle’s motor through the sunroof.

‘‘Put your kids to work for the good of the environment,” joked Master of Ceremonies Mary Ann Cashman-McGuire, as the Prius rolled along.

The DC-Maryland Neighbors for Takoma Park Transit group built a large float depicting a WMATA bulldozer, indicating opposition to development around the Takoma Metro station.

‘‘There’s always something new to keep things interesting, but also it’s very traditional in many ways,” said Takoma Park resident and parade-watcher David Olson. ‘‘That’s what I like about Takoma Park. It’s a mixture of traditional and wacky.”

An example of traditional Independence Day fare came from Takoma Park resident Jeffrey Silverstone, who for the purpose of Friday’s festivities went by Uncle Sam.

‘‘I feel my role is to basically to entertain the kids,” Silverstone said. ‘‘There’s always kids to wave at, and I think they enjoy Uncle Sam very much.”

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) and other politicians made their way down the parade route in convertibles. Homeowners held picnics or barbecues in front yards and opportunistic children ran up and down the street selling mini-American flags.

Grand Marshal Ray Messick, a former Takoma Park resident and longtime member of the Takoma Park Lions Club, watched from the grandstand near the intersection of Maple and Philadelphia avenues as groups ranging from the Washington Divas professional women’s football team to the Montgomery County chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America marched by.

‘‘I’ve been involved in the parade since back in [1952], and I finally made grand marshal,” Messick said. ‘‘It’s a great celebration that’s been very popular.”

Messick said he enjoys the musical groups, and they seemed to be the most popular attraction.

The Virgin Islands Carnival Troupe featured a group of lavishly dressed women dancing to Caribbean-themed tunes. Belle Ziegler, who has been on the parade committee since 1964, said the Troupe is one of her favorites.

Members wowed the crowd with colorful headdresses and bright yellow costumes.

New to the parade this year was Tinkus Jauas, a Bolivian group that featured synchronized dance.

Folk music groups, jazz groups and a Christian rock band rode on the back of trucks and performed selections.

‘‘This year I think is probably one of the better [parades],” Ziegler said. ‘‘We’re hometown type. It reminds me of the hometown parades we had when we were kids, just different because we have a lot of different groups.”