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Joyous Creature Roams N.Y.

July 05, 1986|ELIZABETH MEHREN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Surging into the millions, New Yorkers took to the streets Friday for an Independence Day observance marked by a joyous, unified spirit. Rather than shoulder-rubbing strangers, this Fourth of July assemblage seemed to take on a single, buoyant collective identity of its own--like some vast, cheerful creature never before seen here, and unlikely ever to return.

The crowd moved constantly, a friendly, amorphous beast that poured through streets empty of motorized vehicles and filled with sunshine and celebration. It laughed. It cheered. It smiled.

Novel Marketing

Its members paraded about with foam rubber torches and paused to shop at 900 concession stands. They admired each other's T-shirts and listened to novel merchandising techniques:

--"Send me to college; buy a button."

--Or, "Buy a visor; it's ophthalmologically approved."

--Or, "Give me $5; I'll give you Liberty."

They applauded a pair of unicyclists performing in front of Old Trinity Church. They roared their approval when humble kayaks or elegant Tall Ships passed in the harbor. They even said nice things when they bumped into each other. And they ate, incessantly, chomping on Burmese barbecue, Greek souvlakia, Polish potato pancakes or the indigenous American hot dog.

Often, the crowd of Liberty revelers traveled in synch with an array of native music. When it heard Appalachian tunes, it stomped into a clog dance. It swayed with Latin sambas, jived with jazz groups, polkaed with the Alsatian oompah ensemble. When it heard a Middle Eastern quintet, the crowd snaked sensuously.

'Doing Their Best'

"People are very high on this whole event," said transplanted Santa Barbaran Jay Adams, 24. "You know how New Yorkers are. Usually if you ask them for directions, they tell you to drop dead. Today, people have really been doing their best to help the out-of-towners."

Old and young, people in Friday's crowd chatted as if New York's legendary paranoia were merely some unpleasant myth. "No one is being obnoxious--for a change," Carolyn Gall of Manhattan said.

The crowd was tolerant, too, of a demonstration by about 2,000 lesbians and homosexual men protesting the Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold anti-sodomy laws. After a series of speeches, the protesters became lost in the throng at Battery Park, where Tall Ships seemed to hold more appeal than politics.

"Today's probably the easiest job I'll ever have," police officer Daniel King, stationed in the center of Battery Park, said. "They're a lot of New Yorkers, and they're having a good time."

Thrills From a Crowd

The same could be said for many of those who had come to New York to help rededicate the Statue of Liberty on her 100th birthday. "Nine million New Yorkers?" said Gene Fischer, of Goldsboro, N.C. "That's why I came. That was what excited me."

Lady Worth Trip

Flying in from Greeley, Colo., for the occasion, Fischer's sister Gina Fischer and her friend Yvonne Brodzinski had arrived in Manhattan just after 3 o'clock Friday morning. To ensure an unobstructed view of the day's Tall Ships parade, they immediately headed to Battery Park and positioned themselves on a waterfront park bench. Why had they made the hasty trip across the country? Brodzinski pointed across the river to the bronze statue on Liberty Island. "Her," she said.

Their bench mates were 22-year-old Kurt Rutz and Doug Katz, 23. The pair had ridden motorcycles from their home in Sacramento "because it was a big celebration," Rutz said. Said Katz: "Because we believe in freedom."

The sentiment was universal, but New Yorkers in the crowd did seem to take a particular pride in Friday's pageant of patriotism. Sitting in bleachers at Battery Park, grandmothers held smal1814061928the Statue of Liberty as if they had recently discovered it. Many paid $5 to pose for pictures with a mock Statue of Liberty--with their own faces in place of Lady Liberty's.

Ethnic Past Matters More

"Out in L.A.," Jay Adams said, "we are all homogenized Americans. Here, everybody has an ethnic past and is real close to it. Everyone has a relative who is from somewhere. It's very much part of their lives."

Sometimes, members of the Independence Day crowd actually linked arms and sang. At one point, turning a corner onto State Street, a trio let forth with familiar lyrics that inspired others around them to chime in.

"From every mountain side," they sang, "Let freedom ring. . . ."

Said police officer King, as dazzled by the day as anyone: "If only it could last."

By late Friday afternoon, the souvenir market appeared to be enjoying a recession. At one concession stand, T-shirts were marked down from $10 to $8, official programs from $8 to $6 and souvenir baseball caps had slipped from $8 to $7.

Still, prices were also subject to upward escalation. One young man hawking souvenir programs in Battery Park had this special deal to offer: "The official Statue of Liberty Harbor Guide. Only $6, a little bit more if you're an out-of-towner or a foreigner."

And one booth, selling nothing, but promoting visits to Messina, Sicily, befuddled some visitors. "Must be the Mafia booth," one person decided.

In the harbor, from the front deck of Malcolm Forbes' 115-foot luxury yacht, the Highlander, Ron Reagan was taping a segment for ABC's "Good Morning America."

No, he said, he wouldn't be joining his father for any official festivities. Instead, the President's son said, when he was finished he would call a water taxi--one of several vessels taking people from yacht to shore--and go home to bed.

Smearing a pretzel with mustard, Nigel Washburn, 11, of Fleetwood, England, confessed that the Statue of Liberty was not all he had imagined it to be.

"It's quite good," Washburn said of the 305-foot monument. "But I thought she would be even taller."

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