Fourth of July celebration lights up Derby Wharf | News

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SALEM — The smiling faces at Salem’s Derby Wharf Saturday night were nearly as bright as the fireworks booming overhead.

“How sweet is it to be back on Derby Wharf after two years away to celebrate America’s birthday?” Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said to the crowd.

From Salem residents to visitors from around the region, families and friends packed together on the grassy lawn by the wharf to chow down on festival food and enjoy classic tunes from the 42-piece Hillyer Festival Orchestra led by Maestro Dirk Hillyer.

Heads bopped to patriotic songs like “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and children bounced up and down to Van Halen’s “Jump.” Glow sticks cracked into neon colors by sundown, not long after a rainbow had twisted over a pink and gray sky as the band performed familiar tunes from Broadway and major films.

Salem High School’s acapella group WitchPitch? and the Reggae steel and drum band Dis-N-Dat also performed on stage at the event.

“This is our tradition,” said Kathy Cassidy of Peabody. “It just didn’t feel like the Fourth last year without it.”

Cassidy was one of the many visitors who sat along the water’s edge at the wharf, which was a major port for the United States during its infancy as a nation.

In 1789, President George Washington visited Salem to thank its residents for their actions during the Revolutionary War — which included capturing 500 British vessels — and their support for the new nation, said Rhonda Schier, acting superintendent of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

“Washington was treated to a fireworks display in his honor,” Schier said of his visit. “We invite you all to please enjoy the power of this place. Enjoy the power of national history.”

Giovanno Alabiso, the president of Salem Historical Tours, was down the wharf Saturday wearing traditional clothes from the late 1700s and with a basket of American flags.

Unlike many of the flags fluttering along Salem’s streets this weekend, these ones had 15 stars and 15 stripes. Alabiso quizzed visitors about the flag as he passed them out.

“Some people come down just for the fireworks, the food, and they kind of kind of forget what it’s really about sometimes,” Alabiso said. “So that’s why I’m here.

“We’re celebrating our independence, which is even more important lately because of everything that’s been happening in the country, and in the world,” he continued.

Peabody resident Ihor Smith donned a pin in support of Ukraine as he watched the show.

“There are other countries like Ukraine who’s really fighting for their independence now,” Smith said. “We should not forget that there are people still fighting for freedom that some people take for granted.”

Saturday’s event was a chance for Jolene Freiert and her family to celebrate this freedom and come back to a city they once called home for 16 years.

“It’s very nostalgic. It makes you feel a real sense of community pride,” Freiert said. “It’s just fun, and it’s that one event every year that we’ve always had a wonderful time at. We’re seeing all the same friendly faces.”

This year was the first time the event has been held since 2019 due to the pandemic. Driscoll held a moment of silence for the 114 Salem residents who have since died from COVID-19. In spite of this loss, Driscoll said that Salem remains strong.

“This pandemic certainly showed us that when we come together, there is nothing we can’t do,” she said.

Arlington resident Lily Feng said Salem’s Fourth of July celebration was a fun way to get back out with her sons, 6-year-old Noah and 3-year-old Isaiah, after the last two years.

“We’ve been pretty cautious, so we definitely welcome the summertime when there are more outdoor events and it’s more comfortable,” Feng said.

State Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, was one of the officials on stage at the start of Saturday’s celebration. He looked out at the crowd with a wide smile as he spoke.

“I wish all of you could see what I see, because looking from this stage over toward the Customs House to historic Derby Wharf, what I see is America,” Tucker said. “What I see is all of us standing united, with 246 years worth behind that flag right here.”

“Let’s keep standing,” Tucker continued. “We know we’re in a difficult time. But we’re Americans, and we’re the best nation on earth.”

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