People looking to celebrate the nation’s independence — and stay dry at the same time — found a safe shelter Thursday at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center.
About 4,500 visitors flocked to the 190,000-square-foot building for the museum’s first Fourth of July celebration. Many activities were moved indoors to escape the gloomy sky. But visitors didn’t seem to care that plans had slightly changed. In the lobby, many tapped their feet to patriotic tunes played by the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band. Others wandered the premises, checking out the exhibits. Outside, some gathered under tents and jumped at the occasional “boom” of cannon blasts.
“I’m a military brat and knew the military would be here — rain or shine,” said Toni Chandler, who showed up with her daughter, her niece and a friend. “My dad drilled that into my head, and I’ve never forgotten.”
For many, the celebration was the big event of the day, since other programs were canceled. In Phenix City, officials rescheduled their amphitheater fireworks display for July 13. “We TRIED but the river was rising and the rain won’t let up,” Rebecca Harris, the city’s parks and recreation coordinator, posted on Facebook.
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Cyndy Cerbin, director of communications for the infantry museum, said it wasn’t the weather organizers hoped for but having the indoor option helped make the event a success.
“We would’ve loved to have had sunshine, but I think people are having fun in the rain,” Cerbin said as the crowd grew larger. “The purpose of the event is to give people a place to celebrate our nation’s independence, and what better place to do it than a place that honors our soldiers for their valor and sacrifice?”
Cerbin said the museum hoped for bigger numbers with the cancellation of “Thunder on the Hooch,” which had been an annual celebration for 13 years. But they will try again next year, she said.
“We knew we wouldn’t get the 15,000 people that Thunder on the Hooch was getting until people got used to coming here for a Fourth of July celebration,” she said. “But we thought we might get several thousand here, which would be a heavy day for the museum.
“We’ll definitely do this again next year,” she said. “In fact, we’re hoping to grow it to the point where we’ll have fireworks in the evening as well.”
On Thursday, other activities included music and World War II videos in the IMAX theater, as well as performances by country singer Tim Maggart and the Neal Lucas Band.
Some visitors, like Hannah Hughes, 13, drew pictures on a “prayer canvas” for victims of the Boston bombings. Hughes drew a cross in red, white and blue. It said: “Stay strong, God bless you.”
Quincy Bahler, an Army officer stationed at Fort Benning, said he was glad to have a place to take his mother, sister and niece who were visiting from out of town. He and his wife, Koko, live only five minutes away and didn’t mind the weather. They still planned to barbecue later.
“Actually, for Georgia this isn’t really raining, this is like a light mist,” Bahler said, sitting under a tent. “Georgia rain is usually pretty hard and this is pretty good.”