Celebrating Independence

Mild temperatures, clear blue skies and a gentle breeze set the scene for an evening of good, all-American fun during Friday’s Independence Day celebration at Wheeling’s Heritage Port.

The crowd was treated to an evening of music from the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra and guest vocalist Donna Broom. As day gave way to night, the revelry concluded with a dazzling fireworks show over the Ohio River.

Throughout the evening, children frolicked in the bounce house and scaled the rock-climbing wall under the watchful eyes of their parents, while young and old enjoyed a variety of refreshments from cold lemonade to hot dogs, pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches.

While most brought lawn chairs or sought seats in the crowded amphitheater, others settled in for a relaxing evening floating on the river in their boats. In addition to a first-rate seat for the fireworks, they said, there are other perks to enjoying the show from the water.

“The seats are very comfortable, and we don’t have to worry about traffic,” said June Straub of Valley Grove, who came out with husband Bill and friends Jim and Joyce McCord of Valley Grove.

They marveled at the weather conditions, noting last year poor conditions forced them to leave the boat at home.

“Last year, we were very sad. We got rained on, and it wasn’t nearly as much fun,” June Straub said.

Meanwhile, Jim McCulley and Don Fuchs of Shadyside proved you could have just as much fun taking in the festivities on dry land. Both Ormet retirees, they came decked out in matching shirts emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes and a bald eagle.

“I’m waiting for the music to start and, needless to say, we always love the fireworks,” McCulley said.

As they waited for the symphony to get started, McCulley, a Korean War veteran, recalled a memorable Independence Day at the Wheeling waterfront nearly 60 years ago, not long after he was discharged from the military.

At that time, what’s now Heritage Port was covered with rocks and railroad tracks, but a large crowd gathered to watch a group of F-86 fighter jets fly underneath the Suspension Bridge.

“There were three or four jets. It surprised me. Actually, it was scary,” McCulley recalled. “Everybody was ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing.'”

Among those giving thanks for the flawless weather conditions was Wheeling Symphony Executive Director Bruce Wheeler.

He said the symphony has been a part of the city’s Independence Day festivities for many years, a tradition that long predates the addition of Heritage Port.

He said free concerts such as Friday’s and one in Weirton the evening before – part of the orchestra’s “Celebrate America!” tour – give the musicians a chance to reach out to a broader audience and attract some new fans.

“People get to come and hear the orchestra that don’t get to hear the orchestra on a regular basis,” Wheeler said.

During a pause in the concert, conductor Andre Raphel asked all those in the crowd from the various branches of the military to stand and be recognized.