Speaking to a crowd of hundreds at Independence Mall on Sunday morning, Dr. Jill Biden touted the COVID-19 vaccines and credited them as the reason people could come together and celebrate the Fourth of July.
“And here we are, back together,” Biden said to roaring applause. “And there is no place that this Philly girl would rather be than here as your first lady.”
Biden, who grew up in Willow Grove, spoke during Philadelphia’s Celebration of Freedom ceremony, which also featured a reading of the Declaration of Independence and performances by local musicians. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney also presented the Magis Award to Dr. Ala Stanford, who accepted it on behalf of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, for their work testing and vaccinating Black Philadelphians against the virus.
“For all the folks out there who are still on the fence, we can have this gathering because 70% of us in the region got vaccinated,” plugged Stanford while accepting her award.
People in the crowd said the holiday weekend was as much a celebration of the nation’s founding, as it was a moment to reflect on this past year and share a bit of joy with loved ones.
“It’s kind of a big deal, like to just spend a little time together as a family and to celebrate the Fourth of July together,” said Carol Martinez, 16, who dropped in at Independence Hall with her mother and grandmother.
The North Philly family said there wasn’t too much to do on the holiday last year. Though COVID-19 cases dipped during the summer of 2020, the threat of the virus still loomed large, and events like the annual Wawa Welcome America festivities in Philadelphia moved online.
Becky Bailey-Findley echoed the feeling. She and her husband made the trip from Anaheim, California to visit family.
“What better than to celebrate the Fourth of July in Philadelphia post-pandemic and being able to travel and visit family members we haven’t seen in 18 months.”
Visit Philly, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., would have been thrilled by the number of tourists in the crowd Sunday.
According to city estimates, it lost more than $4 billion in tourism dollars in the first five months of the pandemic alone.
May polling data from Tourism Economics shows that 72% of Americans plan to take vacations this summer and Visit Philly is banking on the city’s ability to rebound faster than other cities to draw people to the city. Baltimore, for example, didn’t hold its Fourth of July fireworks for the second year in a row because of coronavirus concerns.
That’s why Christine Barnabick’s friends decided to make the trip from Baltimore to check out the fireworks in Philly. Barnabick took her visitors on an Independence Day run — in red, white and blue gear — and a tour of the Liberty Bell with a pit stop to Federal Donuts.
“It feels really great,” said Barnabick, “especially to see some people coming out. We’re outside in this fresh air and beautiful day, so it’s really nice to see the comradery of people coming together.”
History buffs also visited Philly for its significance in the founding of the country.
Nine-year-old Finsaylor Etherington convinced his family to check out the partial reading of the Declaration of Independence on Sunday.
“The American Revolution is my very, very, very favorite subject in history,” said Finsaylor, who showed up wearing a tripoint hat and 1770s style frock coat and pants.
Etherington’s parents say he pretends to fight the British on a daily basis, wearing his costume and carrying his BB gun. The family said they made the trip from Lancaster County to visit the Museum of the American Revolution and walk around the city before checking out the fireworks at 9:30 p.m.
Until the fireworks start, select museums in the city are offering free or reduced admission and the Mann will host its ticketed Wawa Welcome America Concert featuring Flo Rida and Bebe Rexha.
Get daily updates from WHYY News!