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    July Fourth like nobody else does it

    Use the scroller on the image above of the Hatch Shell to see the Fourth of July celebrations on the Esplanade on June 30, 1945, left, and July 4, 2010 right.

    By Kara Baskin | Globe Correspondent

    In 1945, a dignified assemblage of concertgoers commemorated the Fourth of July on the Esplanade, gazing at the five-year-old Hatch Shell with reverence. Perhaps someone waved a flag.

    Today, the Fourth is a feat of pyrotechnics and patience. From a distance, the illuminated Shell looks like a UFO. Throngs of people (last year’s crowd was estimated at 500,000) drenched in sweat compete for squares of grass, hoping for a glimpse of the star performer, like Jennifer Hudson last year or Steven Tyler in 2006.

    Years ago, I led my then-boyfriend, now husband, to the scene. He hails from rural Connecticut and was unaccustomed to giddy herds. As we bobbled through oceans of flag-draped gawkers, families, untethered teenagers, and beatific souls with umbrellas who looked as if they’d been born there, I swear I watched him shrink.

    The lights are brighter, the music is louder, and the crowds are certainly larger than in 1945. But there’s a certain pageantry in mass anticipation. Now there’s a palatable suspense usually reserved for major football games. Frenzied communality trumps social mores. Sure, you might elbow me in the ribs while crooning “My Country ’Tis of Thee” — but we’re alldown here crooning together, united by a city with a history unlike anywhere else on earth.

    As the Boston Pops play their “1812 Overture” finale, which crescendos as fireworks explode above, it’s as if a year’s worth of simmering energy and triumph is being unleashed. We don’t know what the future holds, and certainly this year our minds will be on the recent past with what happened on Boston Marathon Monday, but out there on the Esplanade, we’re rooted in the present. And when we look up, each of us sees the same sky.

    July Fourth commemorates the Declaration of Independence. It is hard to feel independent when cheek-to-jowl with someone in a foam Statue of Liberty hat. But we fought to be here then — and as anyone knows who has rushed to the Esplanade at dawn, blanket and stocked cooler in hand, for the best view — we haven’t stopped fighting.

    Kara Baskin can be reached at