By Carly Cannavina
With boos for King George and huzzahs for the upstart United States, some 600 people of different ages, ethnicities, and political beliefs gathered Wednesday on the steamy Morristown Green for the annual July Fourth reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Tom Winslow of the Morristown National Historical Park donned 18th-century attire, as he has for the last 28 years, to do the honors. With help from colleague Eric Olsen, he closed with toasts to the health of the young Republic and to the dyspepsia of the mother country, eliciting lusty responses from re-enactors portraying Revolutionary War soldiers.
Winslow said his favorite part of each year’s reading is the audience participation. He got a roar when he proclaimed “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
The right to speak freely was exercised at the event.
Video playlist by Jeff Sovelove for MorristownGreen.com: (1.) Preview of Declaration (2.) Declaration of Independence (3.) We Hold These Truths (4.) Organist Josh Stafford plays July 4 sing-along (5.) Stafford plays patriotic variations (6.) Stafford plays Star Wars (7.) Stafford plays Jaws and Harry Potter (8.) Stafford plays Washington Post March.
Activist Stacey Gregg of Rockaway Township stood quietly with an upside-down U.S. flag, which she described as a recognized signal of distress.
As in Colonial days, the U.S. is led by a tyrant who is antithetical to the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence, she said, as police kept a watchful eye on the only protest seen during the reading and musketry demonstration on the historic Green, where a statue commemorates Gen. George Washington’s time in town.
Slideshow photos by Jeff Sovelove:
Some bystanders thanked Gregg. A handful of others accused her of disrespecting the flag and the holiday.
“Today is a day to celebrate the birth of this country. To turn this into a political, liberal smear campaign is completely inappropriate,” said Jon Navarro, a contractor from Stirling who contends “this country finally is making a turnaround” thanks to President Trump.
“Engagement is the highest form of respect,” asserted Gregg, who is active in the grassroots group NJ 11th for Change. “The highest form of patriotism is speaking for those who can’t speak out.”
She expressed solidarity with undocumented families separated at the Mexico-U.S. border, and blamed anti-press rhetoric by President Trump with contributing to the murder of five journalists at a Maryland newspaper last week.
When a woman persisted in shouting at Gregg, Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz told the woman she had voiced her views, and politely asked her to move on. She did.
“We’re watching what makes this country great: The right to protest — and to be protected while you’re doing it,” said Demnitz, who estimated the crowd size at 600.
Video: We Hold These Truths: Anti-Trump activist stirs emotions on Independence Day:
Participants and spectators alike were tested by the muggy heat wave.
Steven Santucci, a re-enactor who has been a part of this celebration for 17 of the last 18 Independence Days, said Wednesday was among the hotter ones. For this reason, re-enactors took swigs of sports drinks from their flasks during the traditional post-Declaration toasts.
Yet Santucci and his 15-year-old son, Thomas, who has followed in his father’s footsteps since age 3, appeared to thoroughly enjoy performing despite the weather. Mingling with enthusiastic Morristown patriots is their preferred way of spending their favorite holiday, they affirmed.
One of those patriotic citizens was Amy Bauer, a performing arts teacher at Morris Catholic High School.
“It’s something I look forward to every year. I love to celebrate America the real way,” she said of the gathering, presented by the Morris County Tourism Bureau and the Morristown National Historical Park. As a performing arts enthusiast, Bauer added, she would love to observe the event from the re-enactors’ point of view sometime.
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, Council President Toshiba Foster and Councilwoman Alison Deeb were among public officials in attendance. Morris Township Committeewoman Cathy Wilson and candidate Jeff Grayzel also were in the crowd.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin:
The day’s festivities included Patriots Path hikes behind Acorn Hall, a graveyard tour behind the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, and a rousing concert of patriotic songs and movie themes by organist Joshua Stafford at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
That people of so many persuasions could gather peaceably and, almost entirely, harmoniously, during these contentious times may be a testament to the document they came to honor on America’s 242nd birthday.
The Declaration of Independence, Winslow observed, “speaks to every generation.”
Carly Cannavina, Morristown High School class of ’18, will study English at George Washington University in the fall. Editor Kevin Coughlin contributed to this story.