The Fourth of July show will go on as usual tonight in Boston. For the 40th year in a row, the Boston Pops will perform along the banks of the Charles River as fireworks burst overhead.
But the scene and the mood will be different, with heavy security measures in the wake of the recent Boston Marathon bombings. It's in the back of many people's minds that the July 4 celebration was apparently the original target until, police say, the bombers decided to attack the race instead.
Half a million people are expected to turn out to celebrate the holiday, and authorities are taking no chances.
Boston native Jill Ammerman showed up to claim her usual spot along the Charles only to find it blocked off by barricades as a slew of police officers milled around.
"Last year, we were able to sit on the grass over there," she says. "This year, they're gonna keep us across the street."
T.C. Jones has traveled from Virginia to the Boston Esplanade concert for the past 20 years. He says he, too, was surprised by the heavy police presence — even on Wednesday.
"You saw state police, you saw feds, you saw the [National] Guard, you saw dive teams, park police — I mean, everybody and his brother," Jones says. "So I think it's terrible. It puts a little damper on things, but I can't say as I really have a better solution."
Police call it common sense. They say they've "exponentially" increased the number of on-site surveillance cameras, and they've put up barricades allowing only three checkpoints into the concert area. And they have set up a special text tip line specifically for the event.
Boston police Chief Ed Davis says there's no specific threat to the festivities, but security nonetheless must be tightened.
"We have a threat that manifested itself on April 15, and we're going to take that to heart," Davis says. "We don't want to be intrusive, but as the threat evolves, our response has to evolve."
That means people will need to adjust their picnic plans, big-time: No more big coolers on wheels will be allowed, no more backpacks, no more cans or big jugs of cocktails — only clear liquids in clear bottles, and food in clear bags.
Sue Zinger found out about the new rules the hard way when she showed up for Wednesday's pre-concert festivities with her cooler, drinks and big bags crammed with lunch and dinner.
"We're not gonna be able to get in," she says. "We have a number of items that don't meet the eligibility to get in. That's a new cooler we bought this morning — we switched everything and we threw the old cooler out, and even this cooler isn't acceptable."
Still, Zinger, like many others Wednesday, was more than willing to put up with the inconvenience. "It's the way of the world really," she says.
Many passers-by said they were comforted by the heavy police presence, though some found it a little unsettling.
"It makes you think back to the incidents over the marathon," says Boston College student Mirko Kruse. It's a sobering reminder, in the midst of the "glory of the fireworks," he says. "But I wouldn't call it a total buzz kill. It's still the Fourth of July, and you just have to celebrate it."
Indeed, many showing up yesterday for the celebration said it was even more important this year. "It's our holiday and our nation, and we're not going to let anyone scare us away," says 66-year-old Mary Ann Rollings. She and her friends 71-year-old Gloria Kelley and 64-year-old Linda Lee Stacy came to the esplanade decked out in their usual red, white and blue T-shirts, knee socks, wigs, hats and sunglasses looking for their regular spot.
It was jarring, they say, to see so many new restrictions on a holiday celebrating American freedom.
But Rollings says, "You know what? Freedom isn't free. And our soldiers are over there sacrificing their lives for us, so we can do a little bit of sacrifice ourselves by not bringing as much paraphernalia that we don't need."
Authorities say to expect this level of security to be the norm. The many new cameras installed on the esplanade are portable — and no one should be surprised to see them at other big events, such as football games this fall or the Boston Marathon next spring.
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