Southhold Village Fourth of July parade. The parade sponsors, the...

Southhold Village Fourth of July parade. The parade sponsors, the Southold Village Merchants Association, gave away the balloons. (July 4, 2012) Credit: David Uberti

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5:58 p.m.: All four parking lots at Sunken Meadow State Park off Route 25 were at full capacity by 2 Wednesday afternoon -- that's more than 6,000 cars and 60,000 people, said Superintendent Jeff Mason.

"Anywhere there's a blade of grass, people are setting up camp," he said.

Concession manager Eddie Martinez, 46, of Central Islip, was overseeing the food orders of what seemed like endless lines of people.

"Customers sometimes aren't patient," he said dryly. During the 12 years of working concessions on the boardwalk, he said, he's had ice cream thrown at him many times.

On the Sunken Meadow beach, 42 lifeguards with Jones Beach Lifeguard watched swimmers. A little boy was led, lost and sobbing, to the guard's station.

"He does this at every beach," groaned his 11-year-old sister, Iris Santos, of Wyandanch, who came with her father to retrieve the boy.

"We always know we'll find the parents -- usually," said Ken Bohman, a lifeguard captain.

Superintendent Mason said he considered the day a success -- despite the chaos of a car fire earlier in the afternoon.

"It's challenging, but I'm used to it," he said.

He began working at Jones Beach when he was 16 and stayed in the parks system for the next 29 years, he said.

"This one is more culturally diverse than any other park," he said. "It's a historic gathering place for people from Brooklyn, Queens, you name it." -- ALISON BARNWELL

5:06 p.m.: community journalism contributor Michael Cusanelli went back in time today, as Old Bethpage Village Restoration celebrated the Fourth of July with a Civil War re-enactment: Check out his story here.

4:50 p.m.: Ken Miller and Jon Foster went to high school together in Southampton, fought in the Vietnam War and remember strolling around their neighborhood during a particularly snowy winter in the 1970s.

But when they met at Wednesday's veterans parade in downtown Southampton it had been decades since they had seen each other.
"This holiday is about getting together and remembering the guys who didn't make it home," Foster, 69, said.

After the morning parade the downtown area was abuzz with people shopping and eating at outdoor restaurants.
Other villages in the South Fork kept their businesses open during the holiday.
A few miles away in Sag Harbor a cluster of boutiques and bakeries drew a quiet crowd to the coastal downtown neighborhood to celebrate the holiday.
Bill Costello, 51, and his daughter Greer, 8, visited from the neighboring hamlet of Wainscott after a family pool party to sit on the beach and eat some ice cream.
"Today makes me think of independence and how we have freedom," Greer said. -- ANKITA RAO

4:29 p.m.: Oreo, Jimmy Miller's 12-year-old Percheron-Pinto horse, was dressed down this Fourth of July.

Miller, 56, of Mattituck, painted the black and white horse red and blue last year for Independence Day. The East End Horseman's Association member said Oreo has ridden in weddings, posed in commercials and donned green paint for St. Patrick's Day.

"I once took him to a luau and dressed him as a hula girl," said Miller, a commercial marine contractor. "He was a handful then. But he's like my best buddy now."

Miller, with Oreo harnessed in front of him, drove a 19th-century carriage in Southold's Fourth of July parade Wednesday.

A recent gift to the Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society, the carriage was made in Southold in the 1880s, according to Nicholas Planamento, the organization's president.

Planamento, 45 of Southold, held the dubious honor of picking up Oreo's droppings behind the carriage.

"I'm the president," he said, holding up his arms. "Someone has to do it."

As for Oreo, Miller said, Wednesday's parade was just another day at the office.

"He's getting to be famous," Miller said. "I hope it doesn't go to his head." -- DAVID UBERTI

4:04 p.m.: Wednesdays are work days for Harold Stemme, even on the July Fourth holiday. But work comes with a view.

Perched 168 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, the retired Stemme, 68, is a volunteer docent at the Fire Island lighthouse. And for him, the Fourth of July is just another day at the office.

"I'm here every Wednesday," he said. "it's year round."

One hundred-fifty-six broad, metal spiral steps, plus another two rickety wooden flights of 14 and 12 steps apiece, take Stemme to the observation deck at the top. The structure was completed in 1858, and the light from its lamp was likely the first indication to 19th-century European immigrants that their boats were nearing New York City and Ellis Island, less than 50 miles away, he said.

For some visitors, the lighthouse, and the American flag beside it, hold special significance on Independence Day.

"When I looked out and saw the flag, it's like a reminder," said Julie Lefing, who climbed the lighthouse with a friend, Brett Streisand, of Huntington. "It definitely makes you feel good about your country." -- NATHANIEL HERZ

3:33 p.m.: Newsday community journalism contributor Fran Berkman was there when the new Miss Wantagh was crowned as part of Fourth of July ceremonies: Check out his story here

2:33 p.m: Jewell Gonzalez's hands looked empty after she gave her last balloon away.

"This is my civic duty," said Gonzalez, 66, of Southold.

She is part of the Southold Village Merchants Association, which sponsored its 15th annual Fourth of July parade in the East End village today.

About 20 members of the organization -- grouped into teams of two -- wandered through rows of spectators for the midday parade, leaving a trail of red and blue balloons and miniature Old Glorys in their wake.

Packs of Southold children twirled the flags as they darted in the street to pick up candy from passing parade vehicles. Bicyclists tied the patriotic balloons to their bikes as they peddled the parade.

The merchants asked for small donations, Gonzalez said, to decorate village streets with dozens of larger American flags for today's parade.

"It gives you a very proud feeling when you drive through Southold and see all those flags," said Gonzalez, a retired teacher. "It's the idea of patriotism and Southold is full of it." -- DAVID UBERTI

--David Uberti

1:59 P.M.: Miguel Clemente, 19, of Ronkonkoma, spent his Fourth of July selling ice cream on Jones Beach. Today was his first day on the job, and he said it was a lot tougher than he expected.

"I didn't expect for me to be sweating this much," Clemente said.

He's been selling ice cream and water bottles from a cooler in his push cart since 11:30 a.m.

"I've met a lot of really nice people, sold a couple ice creams," he said. "I'd probably just be sitting at home if I wasn't doing this, it's nice to be out on the beach." -- SARAH TAN

1:31 p.m.: A fluffy, fuchsia cat stuck its head comfortably out of the rear passenger window of a similarly colored car.

"They called it 'panther pink'," Jim Dickerson, of Southold, said of his 1968 Dodge Dart.

Dickerson, 55, flexed his muscle -- and his stuffed Pink Panther -- in the Southold Fourth of July parade, sponsored by the Southold Village Merchants. His hot pink four-door was joined in the village festivities by a few dozen other classic cars, from 1960s muscle to restored Model T's.

"This parade lets everyone have a good time and enjoy the cars," Dickerson said, adding that he's heading to a family barbecue after the parade, his third in a row.

Dickerson and wife Laura, 59, spent six years refurbishing the Dart, rebuilding the engine, replacing both bumpers and painting it "panther pink," he said.

"It keeps us out of trouble," he said. -- DAVID UBERTI

1:10 p.m.: To the typical booms and blasts of Independence Day, the Village of Saltaire on Fire Island added another sound: splat.

The egg toss is one of the highlights of Saltaire's annual Fourth of July field games, which also feature the tennis ball sprint and sack race.

Residents Jeff Murphy, 52, and Rhonda Kirschner, 63, were victorious in the adult three-legged race this morning for their first time in seven attempts.

"We got really pumped up, and we said, 'You know what? We can do it this year,' " Murphy said. "We went out fast, we prevailed, and we're elated."

The games have taken place for at least the last 40 years, residents said.

Out of a village of about 400 homes (or 2,000 residents), some 100 people turned out for the field games, before dispersing for the beach or to tennis courts.

"It's a great community," said Larry Shire, 50, who has a home in Saltaire and lives in Manhattan. -- NATHANIEL HERZ

12:40 p.m.: Community journalist Erin Geismar checked out the Shoreham-Wading River Community Programs Fourth of July 5-kilometer race. A little morning drizzle didn't stop more than 200 participants. Check out her story here.

12:10 p.m.: Phish fans and vendors started their July Fourth holiday Wednesday by setting up in front of the Jones Beach amphitheater in preparation for the night's concert.

Brandon Flowski, 50, of Lake Tahoe, Nev., said he has been following Phish on tour every summer for the past seven years. He and his son, Jack, 25, set up their van and got ready to sell jewelry and gemstones.

"We love coming here," Flowski said of Jones Beach. "I'm looking forward to hearing some of my favorite songs and every show is different." -- SARAH TAN

11:47 a.m.: Jones Beach started the July Fourth holiday a bit slowly, thanks to some morning rain. But, park director Susan Guliani still expected big crowds later in the day. "The weather slowed people down a little, but today is still one of our biggest days," she said. "It's all hands in deck."

Brian Kessler, 22, of New Rochelle, said he wasn't going to let the rain deter him. 
"It's my one day off, so hopefully it'll clear up," he said. -- SARAH TAN

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