PRINCETON — American pastimes and festivities celebrating independence and freedom were enjoyed Sunday when outdoor events that were shut down last year by a pandemic were reopened to the public.
Fourth of July festivities featuring outdoor concerts, fireworks, and more were ready Sunday afternoon at the Anne S. Hunnicutt Stadium. Games, a hydration station set up by Princeton Community Hospital and the Princeton Health Care Center were ready along with a Kid’s Corner, the stage and concessions as guests started coming through the stadium’s gates. Many people were also attending a car show next to Princeton Senior High School.
By about 4:30 p.m., a good crowd was gathering while the day was still young, said Stacey Hicks of the Princeton Rescue Squad. “It’s early in the day, but already there’s a bigger crowd than we’ve had in years past,” he stated. “Everybody’s glad to be out.”
Sounds of a baseball game at neighboring H.P. Hunnicutt Field could be heard. The Princeton WhistlePigs were playing against the Pulaski River Turtles. The event was kicked off as baseball players and fan stood for the Star-Spangled Banner.
Few of the masks that became a common sight could be found Sunday. Some elderly festival goers and baseball fans wore them, but most people were enjoying a return to something like normal life.
Lisa Clark of the Princeton Rotary was running the souvenir stand. Baseball fans were eager to get WhistlePigs hats and other merchandise.
“We’ve sold about $2,000 worth,” she said. “People are buying $200 to $300 worth at a time. We’ve almost sold out of the hats, but we’ll get more, though.” A couple walked up to the stand. “Anything you guys want today? We’ve got some cute stuff.”
Clark said she was seeing a lighthearted mood among the fans.
“It’s been very celebratory. There are lots of folks from different states celebrating with their kids, seeing baseball and learning about Princeton,” she stated. “And we’re happy to have new visitors.”
Visitors at the baseball field and the festival were enjoying a return to outdoor events. Some said that they never let the pandemic stop them from living their lives.
“Oh, it feels great,” said Jerry Whitt of Glenwood. “We never stopped, to tell you the truth. We got our shots, we wore our masks when we had to.”
A family heading for the stands were appreciating the holiday atmosphere.
“It feels like freedom, definitely,” Joanna Day of Princeton said.
“She said it perfect,” her husband, Travis Day, agreed.
They asked their son, 4-year-old Liam, which team he wanted to win the game.
“Riverdogs!” he replied.
“No, silly. WhistlePigs,” his mother said.
Some fans had traveled hundreds of miles to be with their families on the Fourth of July.
“It feels fantastic,” said Mark Foster of California, who traveled with his wife, Teresa, to visit family in Princeton. His grandson, Memphis, was especially ready to see the night’s fireworks show.
Up in the stands, people were watching the game while the WhistlePig mascot mingled with fans. Helen Ryan of Athens was there with her nephew, Lowell Austin, who now works at Marshall University. She had her red, white, and blue shirt on for the occasion.
“I pull it out once a year,” she said. “We did not get to be at a game at all last year.”
“It feels great after a year,” Austin agreed.
Over at the Anne S. Hunnicutt Stadium, people started arriving for the outdoor concerts and other activities as soon as the gates opened at 1 p.m.
“It’s nice. It’s refreshing to be able to do something,” said Laura Seaver of Princeton, who was working at the concession stand. “But do be mindful and be safe and get your vaccine.”
People wearing their summertime – and patriotic – attire came through the gates and sought out a good spot where they could see the concerts.
“Wonderful,” Jack Hager of Princeton replied when asked how it felt to see outdoor festivals again. “We come here every year.”
“Because we like to dance,” his friend Susan Taylor of Princeton added.
Families arrived with children wearing red, white and blue. Staci Little of Princeton was taking her children to the Kid’s Corner sponsored by the Rotary of Princeton where a splash slide and crafts provided by Hammer and Stain on Mercer Street were waiting.
“I guess with life back to normal, we wanted to come out and celebrate the Fourth of July, Independence Day,” she said. “We want our kids to have good memories of the holiday, spending time with family and friends, and just being outside with family.”
At a nearby van, Dayton Meadows of the Freedom Flag Project, Mountain Memories Veterans Retreat in Flat Top was helping promote plans to construct a pavilion at the retreat’s site off Interstate 77. Motorists traveling north and south can easily see a huge American flag that flies at mile marker 25.
The 40 foot by 48 foot pavilion has a $98,000 price tag, but Meadows said it could be constructed for $50,000 thanks to help from contributors such as Lowe’s in Princeton and United Rental. Volunteers offering to do much of the labor are helping, too.
Meadows said his retreat promotes values including God, country, family and patriotism. And he had a fact to share about Independence Day.
“I just read the other day that we actually declared independence on July 2, but it took two days to do the paperwork,” he stated.
Back in 1776, the Continental Congress declared America’s independence from Great Britain on July 2, but it took two days to edit and approve the paperwork which became the Declaration of Independence. It was ready for signing on July 4.
One of the Founding Fathers, John Adams, thought that the declaration of independence on July 2 would become a great annual festival celebrated by future generations of Americans. He was right about a new national holiday being created, but a little off about the date.
Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline. com