For devoted Fourth fans, an off-key Independence Day

The Thunderbirds fly over the Coca-Cola sign at Fenway Park during a Fourth of July flyover in Boston Saturday.
The Thunderbirds fly over the Coca-Cola sign at Fenway Park during a Fourth of July flyover in Boston Saturday.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

On any other Fourth of July, Reisa Volkert would have spent her morning at the head of the line to enter the Esplanade, gathered with longtime friends who come each Independence Day to hear the Boston Pops and watch the technicolor fireworks exploding over the Charles River.

But on Saturday there was no crowd, no music, no fireworks — at least no pyrotechnics that were authorized.

Volkert, 68, was home in Boxborough, exchanging Facebook messages with friends longing to celebrate a tradition that she believes might never fully return.

“It’s such a routine every year to do this, and I guess nobody really ever saw this coming,” Volkert said. “Certainly we thought that by this time of the year things would have eased up and we would all again be going about our business.”


For devoted fans of the annual celebration, it is one more loss to the coronavirus.

Families and friends who for years have considered the Esplanade the only place to be on the Fourth made do Saturday with backyard barbecues and recorded fireworks on TV — or amateur displays set off by neighbors.

Carol Hunt said she has been at the Esplanade every Fourth for 30 years, but Saturday she stayed home in Milton. In the past, Hunt, 84, often appeared in a Statue of Liberty costume, lifting a torch in her right hand and holding a tablet under her left arm, attending with 40 or so patriotic friends.

Carol Hunt poses for a portrait at her home in Milton Saturday.
Carol Hunt poses for a portrait at her home in Milton Saturday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

“We call ourselves the red, white, and blue group,” Hunt said. “We hang around early in the morning to get up front. We’re a good audience — we cheer loudly.”

She said a few members of the group had organized a Saturday pool party — with a viewing of the Pops’ virtual “Salute to our Heroes” concert — in lieu of the Esplanade visit, but she was staying home “to be safe.”


Meredith Lowmaster, who has been at the Esplanade every Fourth for 15 years, still made her go-to holiday snack this year: pigs in a blanket. After a full day of work as a medical researcher, the 35-year-old planned to have a few of the finger foods and watch the Pops concert from her Quincy home.

“You take what you can get,” Lowmaster said. “At least this year, I’ll eat the pigs in a blanket hot instead of cold, like I usually do.”

The virtual Pops concert will inevitably be wonderful, Lowmaster said, but it'll be missing the fun, unexpected songs the orchestra plays when the cameras are turned off.

"The best part is not actually the live concert though, it's the little bits during the commercial breaks from the broadcast," she said. "Then the Pops will just play the 'Jurassic Park' theme randomly or 'Charlie on the MBTA.' "

On the Esplanade Saturday afternoon, the grassy oval before the Hatch Shell — the most desirable real estate during the Pops’ annual concert — was almost empty, overrun by more geese than people.

A lone woman stood before the stand at 4 p.m., holding balloons that formed the number 30 in honor of her birthday.

“I’m visiting and I heard the scenery was great here, good for birthday pictures,” said Dominique Johnson, who lives in the Bronx, N.Y., and was celebrating her birthday while visiting a friend who recently moved to Boston.


Elsewhere in the city, it might have been any summer day.

Air Force and Marine Corps jets fly over the Charles River. The Rockwell B-1 Lancer Bomber is escorted by four Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting Jets.
Air Force and Marine Corps jets fly over the Charles River. The Rockwell B-1 Lancer Bomber is escorted by four Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting Jets.

Roslindale’s streets were quiet. Here and there, an American flag decorated the front of a three-decker. A woman and a small, fluffy dog jogged in Fallon Field, while a single family occupied the nearby playground. There were no picnics, no games of pickup basketball, no teams on the baseball diamond.

East Boston’s Piers Park was full of activity, though, with families spreading across every picnic table.

Children ran through a fountain while sunbathers with floppy hats and beach towels set up on the cool grass — 6 feet apart. Masked bicyclists sped through the park and disappeared into adjacent streets.

Desiree Headley had laid out a spread of crackers and fresh fruit under the shade of a small tree in the park. She laughed with several friends around a picnic blanket but said they weren’t celebrating the Fourth.

"It's a day we are going to take advantage of the weather and come together, but it's not an active celebration of the day specifically," said Headley, who is Black. "The Fourth doesn't have any meaning or place in the history of African-Americans that live in this country. The Fourth celebrates independence, but the independence doesn't include me or the descendants of slaves."

The group participated in Juneteenth celebrations two weeks ago, she said.

In Boxborough, Volkert said she was content to watch the virtual Pops concert alone, and she thought a lot of other fans of the celebration would also “stay put.”


“Here’s my take on it: When you’ve been to the Boston Fourth of July, what else can you possibly go to that’s going to be nearly as good? . . . There is nothing like it, which is why people come from all over,” she said.

Concerns about the coronavirus kept Volkert inside her home for much of the spring, and she remains cautious about potential exposure to the illness that has killed nearly 130,000 Americans.

“My neighbors probably will have a little barbecue, and that’s all fine,” Volkert said. “I stayed in for three months. I certainly wouldn’t want to just throw that all away for one evening of reckless abandonment.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.