Welcome to Montclair: This town loves her some July 4th
By KIRSTEN LEVINGSTON
For Montclair Local
Kirsten Levingston moved to Montclair in 2008. She works in the city and writes on the side. In “Welcome to Montclair” she explores the quirks of this special town. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Huffington Post and Baristanet.
On the 4th of July, Montclair rolls out the red (white and blue) carpet, inviting the community to a daylong town party. Festivities start with a parade, followed by a Family Picnic at Edgemont Park, and are topped off by a fireworks show at Yogi Berra stadium on the MSU campus. Montclair’s celebration is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourselves.
Independence Day revelry was never my thing, unless you consider hitting up sales racks at the mall and gorging on Bomb Pops to be legitimate commemorations of the Declaration’s signing. My first July 4th in Montclair changed that. The year was 2009; the first black president was about to mark his first Independence Day in office. Energized and proud, as the holiday approached I bought a package of mini-flags, planting them in my front yard and taping them to the front door. Beholding a new beauty in the symbol, I no longer saw the stripes as horizontal bars. Instead they stood vertical, like ladders to climb up, up high enough to grab the stars.
Primed for a party, Montclair’s Independence Day parade, a town tradition for seven decades, summoned. My family staked out a choice viewing spot along the parade route on Midland Avenue and set up our chairs. Attending this parade is not a spectator sport. Between joining in anti-war chants, leaping to grab candy tossed in to the crowd, and dancing to the live music, we stayed on our feet. At one point we even had a brief exchange about tax policy with a then-congressman as he passed by waving to the crowd. In 2018 many of his constituents, frustrated about his policy positions and his unwillingness to host a town hall, relentlessly protested at his office. He decided not to seek a 13th term. Presumably his successor, Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, will be the one waving this year.
If you don’t eat during the parade (well, even if you do), the Edgemont Memorial Park Family Picnic is a natural next stop. For our inaugural picnic we brought a blanket, a food-filled picnic basket, and a plan to lounge in the sun. Two tips. There’s no need to bring food; vendors are there selling it. And, you’ve got to lounge with care in Edgemont’s grass. People aren’t the only ones who flock there — Canada geese love it too — so use caution when throwing down your blanket.
Ending the day with the fireworks show at Yogi Berra baseball stadium is, well, da bomb — loud, smoky and bright, and possibly concussive — though after at least a half dozen trips to the show no one in my family has received an official diagnosis. Long before the sun goes down and the fireworks shoot up, the stadium is abuzz with music, mingling, and contests engineered by promotions staff for the New Jersey Jackals — the team that calls Berra stadium home. On game days they hype up the crowd to root, root, root for the home team. On the Fourth they pump it up to root for home: “Go, Freedom!”
My favorite contest is the tennis ball toss, where people throw balls from the stands, trying to land them inside one of many hula-hoop type contraptions spread out on the infield. If the ball lands inside the circle, you win a prize. (Jackals tickets, anyone?) I never win, but it’s lots of fun to try.
Surviving Montclair’s July 4th demands a little planning, a little savvy, but mostly stamina. To get through the day consider advice from Yogi Berra himself, who said, “I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.”