For 30 years, Matt Lincoln and his family have trooped to the Esplanade to celebrate the Fourth, pushing a cart loaded with tents, a hammer and stakes, bunting, flags, chairs, tables, and a sizable buffet — not to mention a sickle to clear view-blocking weeds.
This year, however, his family is experiencing a kind of patriotic crisis.
For the first time, Lincoln's wife and daughter have balked at joining him and the throngs who crowd the ribbon of land by the Hatch Shell. They are nervous about the potential for copycat attacks following the Marathon bombings, and are deciding whether to watch the fireworks from a safe perch atop the Prudential Center. Even Lincoln considered skipping this year because of restrictions on what he can haul in.
"It's sad it's come to this," said Lincoln, 52, a graphic artist from Mansfield. "There are so many unknowns."
This year's celebration on the Esplanade, which traditionally draws about a half-million people and is the city's largest event since the Marathon, is fraught with concerns. Some worry that no matter how much authorities beef up security, it will not be enough to stop a determined terrorist. Others call new rules banning everything from backpacks to wheeled coolers Draconian and insist they will sap the joy of lounging beside the river for the day.
Last week, State Police said they will deploy hundreds of uniformed and undercover troopers, private security, federal agents, and National Guardsmen to the Esplanade on July 3 and 4.
There will be new checkpoints with metal detectors, more cameras, and other surveillance.
Visitors will also be banned from carrying in cans, glass containers, pre-mixed beverages, liquids greater than 2 liters, or any sharp objects. They will not be allowed to grill, and all blankets, tents, and other items must be carried in see-through bags. Boaters on the Charles will have to stay 100 feet from shore and 1,000 feet from the fireworks barge; docks between the Massachusetts Avenue and Longfellow bridges will be closed; and any vessel in the waters off the Esplanade will not be allowed to move after 7 p.m., including kayaks, dinghies, and other small craft.
"We want to make it as safe a venue as possible for the families that come, and do that without sacrificing the spirit and flavor of the event," said David Procopio, a State Police spokesman. "We specifically didn't want to create the atmosphere of an armed camp, and we haven't created that atmosphere. We believe people will be pleasantly surprised."
But some have already decided not to go.
Debra Glidden was planning to take her 15-year-old granddaughter before learning about the new restrictions, which she calls "outrageous."
"If we can't bring backpacks, it's just not worth the hassle," said Glidden, 55, of Lynn. "I'd need a large bag to carry sweatshirts, drinks, snacks, sunscreen, cellphones, etc. I can't imagine what someone with a child in diapers would do."
Steve Cimbrelo, who has watched the fireworks from the Esplanade since he was a child, called the new security rules "an ironic way to celebrate our independence."
He has also decided against attending. "They're going overboard with security," said Cimbrelo, 26, a telecommunications consultant from Newton who says he has been to the Esplanade 15 times on the Fourth. "I don't know how you can go there for 12 hours bringing next to nothing."
Others said they will make do, even if they are unhappy about the restrictions.
Pat Rioux and her best friend have been going to the Esplanade every year for the past decade. If they cannot bring a cooler, she said, they'll find food and drinks at the concessions.
"It will cramp our style a bit," she said.
But she understands why the security has been heightened. "The bottom line is we don't want to be terrorized," said Rioux, 62, of Bolton. "We want to celebrate and embrace our freedom."
Jim MacDonald, who for the past three decades has come to watch the Boston Pops on the Esplanade, had concerns about returning this year after learning that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the suspects in the Marathon bombings, allegedly told authorities that he and his brother initially planned to target the festivities on the Fourth.
MacDonald comes every year with his wife, son, brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews, and many friends.
"I have thought a lot about if what happened at the Marathon happened at the Fourth," said MacDonald, 58, a state employee from Dedham. "That made it a lot more personal to me. How can you not have second thoughts?"
But he and his family have decided to attend. "This is where we have been, and this is where we will go and continue to go," he said. "We will be inconvenienced, but we will adapt."
For the Lincolns, the plan is less clear.
As committed as Matt Lincoln is to returning, his wife and daughter are seriously looking at other options.
"The Fourth means a lot to me and my family," said daughter Myrna Lincoln, 21, who has gone to the Esplanade all but one year of her life. "It's sad that I feel less safe. I'm just not sure I want to be in that position, a place with such a large crowd where I won't feel safe."
Ruth Lincoln said she has always felt a bit anxious about terrorism at the Fourth, especially after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I'd like to be able to dismiss my anxieties, but I can't anymore," she said. "My husband might have to go alone this year."