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Long Islanders celebrate July Fourth in patriotic style

Evelyn Pierce, 1, is decked out in red,

Evelyn Pierce, 1, is decked out in red, white and blue as she's wheeled down Sea Cliff Avenue on Monday, July 4, 2016, after the reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Sea Cliff Village Library. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

This story was reported by Nicholas Spangler, Scott Eidler and Deborah Morris.

Long Islanders, swelled with patriotism on the Fourth of July — 240 years after the 13 original colonies declared their independence from Great Britain — flocked to Main Streets adorned with the Stars and Stripes, crowded into town parks and village greens, and prepared to watch fireworks light up the night sky.

A historic re-enactment

Before the fireworks and beach barbecues, thousands visited Old Bethpage Village Restoration, where staff re-enacted Independence Day as it might have been celebrated 155 years ago.

Old Bethpage Village’s re-enactment went back to the holiday as it was celebrated on July 4, 1861, in Hempstead. The organization’s flier included an account of that day’s activities: a sunrise salute from a 6-pound cannon, a parade featuring a cornet band and Sunday school children, a patriotic speech and a picnic for 300 that featured 13 toasts.

The Restoration, which sprawls across 209 acres near the Nassau-Suffolk county border, does away with the gunfire in favor of more peaceful events like tinsmithing and weaving demonstrations. But it kept the parade, brass bands and oration, delivered by Tim Van Wickler, 24, a SUNY Empire State College student and Baldwin Harbor resident who has played the role of village mayor since 2004.

“These were longer, meaningful speeches,” said Wickler, who wore a heavy white cotton shirt, black pants hitched up above his waist and suspenders. “Sometimes these guys could talk three, four hours. Roosevelt once got shot and still gave his speech.”

Wickler had condensed the 1861 speech that John J. Armstrong, a Queens County attorney and later judge, delivered in Jamaica, Queens, from 28 typewritten pages into about a page and a half, leaving out some of the more grandiloquent phraseology and keeping “what’s more patriotic and understandable.”

Later, delivering his speech, Wickler celebrated the day as the “commencement of our existence as a nation and a new era in the government of the world,” and a time to “ponder upon the great theme of American freedom, to consider how it was won and above all, how it may be preserved.”

Finishing, he shouted “Huzzah to the Union!”

“Huzzah!” the crowd shouted back.

Wickler condenses all his own speeches, work he finds fascinating, he said. An 1861 audience might well have included Long Island’s Quakers, pacifists resolutely opposed to the Civil War or any war, as well as Union volunteers bound for Camp Winfield Scott, the training camp in Garden City where Nassau County courts now stand.

His audience Monday included Lorenzo and Clementine Newby, history buffs from Queens Village.

“The country was founded upon English influence and the Civil War,” said Lorenzo Newby, 83, a retired insurance broker. “It’s interesting to see how the old history has been maintained here.”

Patricia Quinn drove from Bethpage — an annual ritual for the past decade — to hear the recitation of the Declaration of Independence. “The Fourth of July is just a date,” she said. “You have to tell people what it means.”

Patriotism on parade

The familiar sights, sounds and colors of July Fourth filled the streets of Port Jefferson early Monday as participants and paradegoers gathered for the 70th annual Independence Day parade.

The Port Jefferson Fire Department-sponsored event stepped off with grand marshal Jim Scholl, a dedicated member of the fire department for 35 years, leading the way.

Fire departments from several Suffolk County companies, scouting troops, vintage cars, tractors and dance troupes made their way from the parking lot of Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church on Myrtle Avenue and headed downtown. Cheers from the excited crowd went up as the procession made a left onto West Broadway and then a left onto Barnum Avenue, ending at the firehouse at Maple Place.

“I wanted to be out in the community and help honor our freedom, our way of life,” said Suzanne Marisa, who traveled from Centereach to attend for the first time. “I’m really excited. You can feel the happiness in the air.”

Cameron Stanton, 10, marched with his Cub Scout troop and said he was happy to be a part of celebration of a historic moment in U.S. history.

“It’s when the Declaration of Independence was signed, so it’s an important day,” he said.

Port Jefferson Fire Department Third Assistant Chief James Sarubbi said the annual procession “brings us back to our roots and foundation of our country.”

For Stephanie Stasik it was a family affair. Three of her children participated in the parade including Alexander, 9, making his second appearance and walking with his lacrosse team.

“I like doing it,” Alexander said. “We were also able to raise money for ALS, so that’s good.”

Melissa Petsco was the embodiment of the all-American red, white and blue color scheme of the day. Dressed head to toe in variations of the Stars and Stripes, the Port Jefferson Station resident has been going to the parade for the 27 years she has lived in the area. Three years ago, she and her husband began driving the Port Jefferson Village mayor in the parade procession.

“It’s an honor to drive the mayor and also be a part of a celebration that celebrates our country, our flag, our people,” she said. “It’s nice to be a part of such a wonderful tradition.”

Remembering the Founding Fathers

In Sea Cliff, more than 400 gathered on the Village Green, where costumed actors came for the 20th annual reading of the Declaration of Independence.

John Canning, a local attorney who spoke in a loud baritone, began the reading, interrupted by actors who chanted “shame” and “enough” when he listed grievances against the British government of 1776.

Canning says he starts by reading the first paragraphs in a calm, matter-of-fact tone, as if he were presenting a “reasonable legal argument.” But as the speech morphed into an indictment of the rule of Great Britain’s King George III, Canning’s voice grew louder and he pumped his fist as the crowd turned rowdy.

“It builds with the drama,” Canning said. “They’re doing something very dramatic.”

The village’s remembrance started off as a smaller occasion in 1996, but after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, organizer Carol Vogt said she promoted the reading heavily and attendance soared.

“These civic rituals are so important to our sense of who we are,” said Vogt, chairwoman of the village’s July Fourth Committee. “It reminds people of what July Fourth is about, beyond the picnics and the barbecues.”

Before the reading, Mayor Bruce Kennedy rang a bell 13 times to mark the original colonies. Other actors told the stories of famous Long Islanders who signed the Declaration of Independence, including William Floyd and Francis Lewis.

The reading is held outside a children’s library, and the village, with many Victorian homes and a quaint Main Street, harks back to an earlier era.

“The allure of Sea Cliff is it’s sort of caught back in time. You don’t feel you’re living in 2016,” said Ann DiPietro, president of the Sea Cliff Civic Association.

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