Fourth of July Fireworks Return to National Mall (photos)


By any measurement, this was not a typical Fourth of July in Washington D.C. Missing for the second straight year was the Independence Day Parade down Constitution Ave. led by the U.S. Army “Old Guard” Fife and Drums Corps in traditional colonial uniforms.  The Capitol grounds remained fenced in following the Jan. 6 insurrection, so the traditional PBS Capitol Fourth Concert from the Capitol West Lawn once again had to go virtual. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, always omnipresent on the National Mall this time of year, moved online as well.

It was a far cry from the last pre-Covid Fourth a few years back when the Trump White House spent over $13 million in federal funds on a parade featuring army tanks with other military vehicles placed strategically around the National Mall, and a flyover of military jets and Air Force One, plus a much expanded fireworks show. On that day, President Trump addressed the nation from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in a display of pomp and pageantry.

Traditionally, prior to the Parade, the U.S. National Archives marks the occasion with a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence with actors in period costume playing our Founding Fathers (and Mothers) on the steps of the building which houses our nation’s most precious documents. Like so many of the other Fourth events, this year’s reading went virtual — in its place a scaled down event that had the feel of a block party with a variety of educational and family-friendly interactive programs “to keep people engaged, educated and entertained,” according to David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States. These included a stilt walker, chalk artists, a champion whistler, and visits from George and Martha, Ben and Thomas. A tent store full of patriotic items was set up outside. We were told it was the first public event of this type to be permitted in the District, and that permission was obtained just two day’s prior.

Added National Archivist Ferriero, the scaled down event was but “a segue to next year [when] I hope to be back to full force [in] the traditional Fourth of July celebration. We here [at the National Archives] feel that we own the Fourth of July since we have the Declaration of Independence. We feel this is our holiday and we feel a responsibility to celebrate this day with the American People. For those of us who work at the National Archives — 2700 people in 17 states in 40 facilities — this is the culmination and hallmark of everything we do every day to collect and preserve the nation’s records and make them accessible to the American public.”

The evening’s fireworks display was a lonely reminder of the District’s July 4 celebrations of years’ past. The enthusiastic pre-Covid-like crowds drawn to the National Mall we hope to be a harbinger of better times ahead. 

View Jeff Malet’s photos from July 4 in the District by clicking on the photo icons below.

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