D.C. is the focal point of celebrations for America’s 244th birthday Saturday, with a July 4 celebration featuring a speech from President Trump, flyovers and a fireworks show billed as “the biggest ever.”
Despite warnings from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to stay home during the holiday to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the National Mall opened for visitors and U.S. Park Police had 300,000 masks on hand for the event. More than 100 hand washing stations were also placed throughout the Mall. The Department of the Interior and National Park Service urged visitors to follow CDC guidelines for gatherings, including wearing a mask and social distancing.
The first fireworks kicked off the festivities on the National Mall at around 7 p.m., after an Air Force One flyover. The audience for the initial festivities was light, but the crowd grew in anticipation of the 9 p.m. fireworks display. The show went off without a hitch just after 9 p.m.
As part of the earlier military air show, five vintage WWll aircraft in tight formation flew over the National Mall just before 7:30 p.m., a slew of other aircraft streaked over the lawn about 30 minutes later.
President Trump delivered remarks at the White House as part of the “Salute to America.” Repeating some of what he said at Mount Rushmore on Friday, the President took aim at protesters toppling Confederate monuments and spoke about an executive order he signed to create a new park that will house statues of American heroes.
“Those that are lying about our history, those who want us to be ashamed of who we are, are not interested in justice or in healing. Their goal is demolition. Our goal is not to destroy the greatest structure on earth, what we have built, the United States of America,” Trump said.
The president touched on the pandemic as well, saying the U.S. will develop a therapeutic and or vaccine solution to the coronavirus “long before the end of the year.”
Minutes before the President’s speech and moments before the flyovers began, WTOP’s Ken Duffy reported crowds were small on the Mall compared to previous July 4 celebrations. About half the crowd appeared to be wearing masks, according to Duffy.
“I was definitely expecting to see some more people just because of the other events I’ve been to down here before,” Arlington resident William Klein who attended the event, said just before 6 p.m. “But it is early, so maybe they’ll be more later on.”
Klein compared the crowd at that point to that of an average Saturday or Sunday crowd on the Mall.
Providing some visual perspective, this is the largest collection of people here on the National Mall
But Duffy reported one of the free masks stations that opened early in the afternoon had given out eight boxes of masks by around 4:15 p.m.
Among those gathered on the Mall early in the afternoon, Duffy spoke with people who traveled from Alabama, Tennessee and from as far as California for the event.
“If that virus is going to take me, it’s going to take me,” a visitor from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, told Duffy. “We’re taking all of our precautions, but I’m just here with my lady staying away from everybody just following the protocols.”
Thomas Robertson is an Associate Producer and Web Writer/Editor at WTOP. After graduating in 2019 from James Madison University, Thomas moved away from Virginia for the first time in his life to cover the local government beat for a small daily newspaper in Zanesville, Ohio.