BY PEGGY DEE — Hyattsville’s first July 4 celebration took place in 1940, and some of the city’s older residents remember attending it.
Under the guidance of general chairman Caesar Aiello, there was a parade on 40th Avenue, athletic events, speakers, sack races, rope pulling and apple dunking. These were followed by the traditional fireworks at dusk, at Magruder Park.
On July 4, 1945, at the end of World War II, 20,000 people jammed the park to hear speeches from local elected officials.
In 1959, the annual festivities moved to Prince George’s Plaza because the planning committee felt there were better parking and crowd-handling facilities at the new shopping center.
But in 1962, however, the City decided to reclaim the patriotic observance as its own. Daylong activities in Magruder Park culminated in a fireworks display that attracted an estimated 50,000 people. Perennial master of ceremonies Dave Ginsburg received an award from Mayor Joe Lilly and Councilman Jay Katz, who chaired the event.
In 1976, Hyattsville marked the 200th anniversary of the United States and its own 90th birthday by being named a Bicentennial City. That year saw the largest July 4 celebration in the City’s history, chaired by Merle Jones, and featured DeMatha Coach Morgan Wooten as Grand Marshall. As the rainy weather took its toll, the Mummers Aqua String Band was not able to march in the parade. But Mayor George “Cotton” Harrison arranged for the band to use Nicholas Orem Junior High School auditorium for a concert. The evening concluded with a dinner-dance at DeMatha.
Due to some incidents of violence following the 1977 July Fourth celebration, Mayor Jeremiah Harrington, with the backing of the City Council, cancelled the fireworks.
But they returned to Magruder Park for the City’s 100th anniversary celebration in 1986. HL&T executive editor Paula Minaert remembers watching them with her family – including her newborn daughter, who slept right through them.
Today, city residents can watch the fireworks put on by the nearby University of Maryland; some people can see them from their yards. To see them in the city, though, they have to wait for September’s International Festival, which for several years now has brought fireworks to the skies over Queens Chapel Town Center.