But this year, there was an even bigger crowd, as Macy's worked in collaboration with the city and the Star-Ledger newspaper to bring the fireworks closer, stationing a barge between the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.The event was originally scheduled to coincide with the reopening of the pedestal in the Statue of Liberty, but that was rescheduled for late July or early August. Still, the fireworks went ahead as planned.
It was not only an opportunity to see a grand display of shooting lights, but a time to remember the 228th anniversary of the founding of the United States.
By 7:30 p.m., most of the roads leading into Liberty State Park were closed to incoming traffic. At 9:20 p.m., the show began.
Fourth of July, Sunday in the park
"It's one of my favorite holidays. I love fireworks and it just makes me grateful that I am in the greatest country," said Pat Berry, an attendee of the event.
Berry and her husband Allen had traveled from their home in Woodbridge to see the fireworks, arriving early in the afternoon to get a good spot. Berry wore a bandanna with the American flag and a shirt with the image of the flag printed on the front.
At around 4:30 p.m., the employees of the Jersey City Department of Cultural Affairs set up for the fireworks. Their duties included putting a VIP Tent for city officials, and their family and friends, making sure that those VIP passes would be allowed near the tent area, and picking up those VIPs in designated golf carts at a nearby parking lot.
They also set up a table with hot dogs, potato salad, and pastries. Burgers and pieces of chicken sizzled on a barbecue grill until done. It was dinner for the guests who would arrive within the next hour.
Richard McCallister, the recently appointed director of the Cultural Affairs Department, had been at the city's designated location since 11 a.m. with a team of employees.
"Very exciting. This is Jersey City's party and we're throwing it," said McCallister. "Jersey City is famous for its fireworks in City Hall and in the City Council, but now it's in the outdoors."
A large green expanse in the park accommodated everyone from couples lying on blankets to children and adults alike flying kites.
Kurtis Jones was flying his quad line kite (a four-line kite), a product that had the shape of a bat/butterfly hybrid with the moniker REVOLUTION. Jones, a resident of Hackensack, has been flying kites for about 20 years at many parks and fields across the country. But he always finds himself coming to Liberty State Park.
"This is one of the best parks to fly kites in, whether it is four lines, two lines or one line," said Jones.
Jones pointed out that he and a group of like-minded kite flyers come to the park because of the large area and the winds that come off the Hudson River.
For Manuel Gonzalez, a resident of Elizabeth who came with his wife Oriamny and his 11-month-old daughter, it was an opportunity to appreciate this country that has been his home of 20 years.
"I am originally from El Salvador and [my wife] is from the Dominican Republic," he said. "Our daughter was born in the U.S., and I have been here for 20 years. And I am a citizen and I feel American. This is our holiday."
Gonzalez had the flag of his native country and the American flag displayed proudly at his spot.
By 6:30 p.m., acting Mayor L. Harvey Smith came with his family and a small entourage for the fireworks show. Smith greeted those guests with VIP passes as well as those visitors to the park who wanted to shake his hand or take a picture with him. For Smith, the experience was overwhelming.
"This is a celebration, a celebration for America and a celebration for Jersey City. We have our own fireworks barge for the Fourth of July. I got chills, really got chills," said Smith.
Security detail working hard
Located in a fenced off construction zone, near the docking area for the ferries that transport tourists to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, was the Office of Emergency Management mobile.
The oversized trailer served the headquarters for the city's security detail.
Capt. Steven McGill, the Emergency Management coordinator for Jersey City, said his office had to work with many city agencies to ensure that this Fourth of July would be more manageable than previous celebrations.
"We've been here since 10 a.m. in the morning helping to set up the security for today," said McGill.
McGill pointed out that because Macy's was co-sponsoring the fireworks show for Liberty State Park, it was expected that attendance would double.
McGill estimated that over 100,000 people would be coming to the park. As a result, there was greater coordination between the different authorities - Jersey City police and fire departments, state police, and park police - as well as an increase in the security force patrolling the park.
McGill said that handling this responsibility, especially on his first official week on the job, had him asking "Why me?" but he felt confident to tackle the task.
"You don't get to enjoy the festivities, but it is probably the best place to be for the Fourth of July," said McGill.
Superintendent Joshua Osrowski estimated that 30,000 to 60,000 would be visiting the park on the day. Some of the entrances into the park were closed as early as 5 p.m. to prevent a mass exodus onto the roads much later.
Sgt. Edgar Martinez, a spokesman for the Jersey City Police Department, confirmed that the road leading into the Port Liberte area was closed first by 5:30 p.m., then other roads leading into Liberty State Park by 7:30 p.m.
Also, many in the past who had parked their cars on the Turnpike Bayview Avenue exit to view the fireworks were banned from doing so. Many were encouraged to park at the NJ Transit Liberty State Park and Ride, or to just come by foot.
Lighting the night sky
By 9 p.m., people made their way toward the waterfront area where the Macy's fireworks barge for Liberty State Park was most visible. Although farther out in the water, the fireworks impressed most of those who came to view.
Speakers booming 1010-WINS, as newscasters from the station were giving the countdown until the fireworks were launched at 9:25 p.m. It took a couple of minutes more than expected, but it was worth the wait for best friends Christopher Painter and Lily Bergstine, both 8 years old.
"They said there would be a smiley face fireworks," said Bergstine, doing her own countdown.
The fireworks commenced, with flares going straight up in the air then bursting like a shooting star.
Much of the crowd just stood silently, taking in the beauty and glory of shooting lights. There was applause when the fireworks were an unusual shape or revealed a never-before-seen color. The adults were as impressed as the kids.
The crowd was also treated to the other fireworks displays on the other side of the Hudson River, courtesy of Macy's. After a half-hour, the fireworks stopped and the people dispersed, many hurrying to avoid the inevitable traffic.
For Walter Webb, this was the first time he had seen the fireworks up close, especially in his hometown of Jersey City.
"Beautiful," he said. "One of the greatest shows I've ever seen. You can see as good from in town, from the roof of my house or from tall buildings. But not like this. It was nice to have this in Jersey City for a change."