If you were raised in America, the Fourth of July might feel special, but also familiar. But what if you weren’t born in the USA?
KFSK sent Thomas Copeland, the station’s intern hailing from Northern Ireland, into Petersburg’s downtown area to document his very first Independence Day.
Thomas Copeland woke up 8:30 in the morning on Independence Day.
“It’s time for me to find out what a Petersburg’s Fourth of July is all about,” he said. “And I want to do it all in the time it takes to play a classic all-American tune: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA.'”
The first stop has to be the Fourth of July parade downtown. The theme: “Let Freedom Ring.” Copeland met Pat Blair on his custom-built XtraTuff bicycle.
“[It’s] in support of the Petersburg Bike Park,” said Blair. “All the kids riding behind it. Every kid [who] shows up gets a bell.”
Then he met a roller-blading Matthew Garretz, with Starflower the Blind Duck in a straw-stuffed wheelbarrow spangled with stars and stripes.
“Do you have high hopes of winning today, Starflower?” asked Copeland.
Starflower quacked with glee.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” answered Copeland.
The Olsen and Eddie families dressed as professional wrestlers and referees, ready to wave from their wrestling ring trailer. In the ring: Tough-as-Nails Teddy Roosevelt, Warrior Woodrow Wilson, Body-Slamming Ben Franklin and Mayhem Abraham Lincoln.
“Are you guys excited for Fourth of July?” Copeland asked them.
“Yeah!” answered the group of kids.
“Have you had a lot of fun already?” asked Copeland.
“Yeah!” answered the kids.
“Do you think you might be in with a shot of winning?”
“Yeah!” answered the kids.
“Do you answer yes to every question?” asked Copeland.
“Yes?!” answered the kids.
“You gotta fight each other,” Copeland insisted.
“No! They won’t allow it,” said the kids.
“Why wouldn’t you like them to fight?” Copeland asked an adult on the float.
“You know, moms have to put safety first,” she answered.
But the lack of adolescent violence certainly didn’t dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. They cheered on for every single float — especially those tossing candy to the kids. But here in America, competition is king — and there can only be one winner. This year’s victor, a mock trolling vessel fishing for kids dressed as fish. It was celebrating the opening of the king salmon troll fishery following a prolonged legal battle. Its name: “Let Freedom Ring for Trollers,” made by the neighborhood of Sandy Beach.
Sandy Beach neighbor Sue Paulsen accepted the trophy and $200.
“We’re all in support of our trollers,” said Paulsen.
“Where’s this trophy gonna go?” asked Copeland. “How are you going to decide who keeps it?”
“You know, there’s going to be a big battle and I predict that I am going to win at first — but I will share later,” said Paulsen.
With the parade is over and Thomas down to nearly two minutes through on the Springsteen countdown, it was time for a pit stop.
“Right, so it’s just around lunchtime now,” said Copeland. “That means I need some food — but not just any food. I need to find the most American food.”
After surveying all the options — from corndogs to cake doughnuts to deep-fried blue crab — Copeland arrived at a hotdog stand.
“If I want to eat the most American food, what should I eat?” Copeland asked the vendor, who was happy to give a demonstration of his savory craft.
“The first thing we’re going to do is go over here and we’re going to get you a dog and a bun,” said the vendor. “Alright, what we got here is: a little bit of jalapeño if you’d like some of that, cheese, onion, ketchup, and a little bit of mustard. An all-American hot dog — look at that.”
“I got to take a bite,” said Copeland, who proceeded to stuff the hotdog into his mouth. “Oh — wow,” he said.
“Do you like it?” asked the vendor.
“I love it,” Copeland answered, through a mouthful of hotdog.
“All right!” exclaimed the vendor. “That’s why we’re up to cooking 200 of these today.”
If you can still move after your all-American lunch, then it’s time to get stuck into a few races on Main Street. All your ballpark classics, plus some Petersburg specialties. With too many races to offer bespoke commentary, here are the 2023 Fourth of July Park and Rec Street Game Winners:
50 yard dash 6 & under — Emma Aikins and Owen Martin.
7-9 — Ivy Worhatch and Jackson Zweifel.
10-12 — Lucia Worhatch and Devin Westry.
Training Wheel Bike Race — Jackson Josey.
Slow Bike Race 8 & Under — Carter Griss.
9-12 — Ceder Littleton.
Water Balloon Toss — Jackson Zweifel & Ryder Diehl.
100-yard dash — Kenyen Rogers and Bareal Lutton.
Giant Trike Race — Peter & Jordan Swanson.
XtraTuff Stomp — Zach Peeler, Alex Rodriquez, Nathan Ajax, and Adam Caster.
And the Egg Toss — Byran Nguyen and Kirby Green.
With two minutes left on the Springsteen timer, Copeland headed down to Petersburg’s North Harbor for two of the community’s most high-profile events. First: the blindfolded rowboat race. On the dock, Mickey Ramos and Trent Ellis worked out a foolproof strategy.
“I’m going to yell at him a lot,” said Ramos. “And he’s going to do exactly what I say. It always has worked and it’s going to work again today — or else.”
“How confident are you feeling?” Copeland asked the couple.
“Not very,” Ellis answered
“Super confident,” said Ramos.
Ramos’ confidence was justified, when the couple made a chart-topping 46 seconds on the board. But they weren’t out of the water yet — reigning champions Joe Viechnicki and Cynthia Mattisson were up next.
“And they’re off — reigning champs Joe and Cynthia, they’re a little bit bumpy to start,” said Copeland, watching the games from dry land.
“They’re probably not getting at the pace they wanted to get at this stage — Oh, oh! They’re moving in the wrong direction. And the oar is broken! The oar has been broken, ladies and gentlemen. It’s unprecedented — the oar has snapped. Joe Viechnicki has snapped the oar — such was his enthusiasm at the game.
Back at the docks, Viechnicki had to admit his nerves.
“Joe, did the just pressure get too much?” Copeland asked him.
“Aw man, where do they get these orders from?” Viechnicki asked. “Are they Wrangell oars?”
Whether from the pressure or a dodgy Wrangell oar, the team’s second attempt soon derailed.
“Oh, and he’s lost it entirely!” said Copeland “He’s lost it entirely, ladies and gentleman.”
With that, Ramos and Ellis were heralded the 2023 blindfolded rowboat champions. And that just left one competition — the iconic Petersburg Fourth of July Log Roll.
Long-reigning log rolling champ Britton Erickson, from a proud family of log roll victors, was unfazed by the jealous gaze of the competition.
“I mean, I do have people downtown like telling me I’m going down,” said Erickson. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t even know who you are!’
One by one, the brave men and women who took to the log splashed into the water and out of the game. Anna Earley, another former champion, took victory for the ladies and Britton Erickon secured the men’s title. But in here Petersburg, only log roller can reign supreme. And so, a true battle of the titans began.
“The grand finale — Britton looks in control at the moment,” said Copeland. Anna’s nearly slipping there — and she’s down! Britton Erickson is the champion, men and women — he’s won the whole thing yet again! Britton, how do you feel?”
“A little colder than I was about ten minutes ago,” said Erickson.
“Final thoughts — are you pleased?” asked Copeland.
“I mean, it’s just a great Fourth of July,” said Erickson. “The more the more the merrier. The parade was awesome, and all the events downtown were great.”
And with the winners declared, so was the end of Petersburg’s Fourth of July.