Published Saturday, July 4, 2009 | 2:46 p.m.
Updated Sunday, July 5, 2009 | 12:23 a.m.
Fourth of July coverage
Fireworks displays outshone the neon and glitter of the Las Vegas Strip on Saturday to the delight of those enjoying the holiday weekend on Las Vegas Boulevard.
As the sun set for the night, tourists and locals crowded sidewalks, hoisted children on their shoulders and tilted their heads upward for a glimpse of the Fourth of July spectacle in the sky.
And, holiday or not, this Saturday night was like many on the Strip: busy and festive (but not necessarily patriotic). Many of the sidewalks were cramped with people and the foot traffic was shoulder-to-shoulder.
Dressed in their patriotic gear and blinking American flag pins, David and Louise Trudnak caught a prime spot on a pedestrian bridge to Caesars Palace to watch the fireworks. The Delaware couple has made celebrating Fourth of July in Las Vegas a tradition for 15 years.
“We worked for the school system so that always worked out but this year we were in Houston and San Francisco so we decided to circle around,” Louise Trudnak said.
The Trudnaks said that during the day they ate, gambled and tried to stay out of the heat, even though they said they aren’t bothered by triple-digit heat.
“We lived in Southern Maryland for a long time so we’re used to the Washington, D.C., humidity,” David Trudnak said. “The Vegas heat is nice because it’s dry and arid.”
For 5-year-old Braden Solter of St. Louis, Las Vegas is where he wanted to spend his vacation and Fourth of July holiday.
“He starts school this August so we wanted one more family trip. We asked him where he wanted to go and he said he wanted to go to Vegas since his grandparents always come here,” said his mom, Amy Solter.
“I wanted to come here because I wanted to play here and check it out. I’ve always wanted to live here,” the 5-year-old Solter said.
The family grabbed a seat on the steps near Serendipity 3 -- a perfect spot for the fireworks display just above Caesars’ Roman Tower.
Sarah Laucius of Philadelphia and Amy Kane of Los Angeles said they had to make a tough decision with their Fourth of July evening plans: Catch the MC Hammer/Vanilla Ice concert or see the fireworks. The fireworks won.
“You have compromises when you’re in a relationship,” Kane joked.
The pair said the fireworks didn’t disappoint.
But fireworks weren’t the only spectacle on the Strip. A large crowd gathered in front of the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood to watch magician Steve Wyrick's "Death Drop" escape stunt. Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, who is co-owner of Club Tattoo, hosted the event to coincide with the opening of the business.
As hundreds filled the sidewalks and streets in front of Planet Hollywood, Bennington, assisted by members of his side-project band Dead by Sunrise, shackled Wyrick and locked him inside one of the band’s equipment boxes.
“Are you guys ready to see something amazing tonight?” Bennington asked the crowed, which roared in response.
Plans called for the box to be hoisted into the air, supported by a few thin ropes and dangled over a bed of 500 flaming spikes 80 feet below. The ropes would then be set on fire, forcing Wyrick to make his escape before the last rope broke.
But in reality, the stunt played out a little differently.
“This has never been done before, so anything can happen,” Wyrick said before climbing into the box.
After Wyrick was locked inside, the crewmembers went to light the ropes, igniting a black netting that was shielding the box from view. Much ado was made about the flaming veil, then emergency personnel responded as the box was whisked from view.
“Apparently something’s gone wrong,” Bennington said. “Steve’s had a bit of an accident.”
A helicopter then arrived, presumably responding to Wyrick’s medical emergency. As it landed on Las Vegas Boulevard between Planet Hollywood and CityCenter, Wyrick suddenly appeared from the helicopter, receiving applause from the crowd.
It wasn’t the 20-foot jump from the burning box over the bed of spikes the crowd had been promised. While some cheered, others were disappointed the stunt hadn’t gone “as planned.”
“It looked believable that he was hurt, but for him to all of a sudden arrive in a helicopter? I’m sorry. I’m disappointed,” said Charleton Lupica of Gulf Shores, Ala.
Laura Torrenzana arrived after the stunt was finished, disappointed she didn’t get to see it first-hand. She has been in Las Vegas for a week with 12 family members from New England.
“I think it feels more patriotic at home in New England, honestly. There’s so much of the Revolutionary War history, it’s just a bigger deal,” said Torrenzana’s step-daughter, Maren Gulbrandsen. “I feel like (Las Vegas) is a constant party whereas in Massachusetts, it’s our one time of year to really celebrate.”
A Vegas vacation isn’t the way the family members usually spend their Fourth of July. They usually “splurge a little” with a New England lobster dinner, watch fireworks and attend a local carnival.
As for the money she was spending, Torrenzana said the lower airfares and hotel prices helped make for a better vacation.
“But none of us have won at gambling,” Gulbrandsen said. “Maybe tonight’s the lucky night.”
Gulbrandsen wasn’t the only one who said the holiday rings a little hollow in Las Vegas. Will Hartman of Salt Lake City compared his holiday in Las Vegas to how he spent it last year – overseas.
“Last Fourth of July I actually spent in London, and it’s a nothing holiday for them -- completely off the radar. But I had at least two or three Brits come to me and say, ‘Happy Independence Day, mate,’ ” he said, impersonating an English accent.
“I think the Founding Fathers would think of this,” he said, gesturing down Las Vegas Boulevard, “As the antithesis of what they had in mind (for Independence Day).”
For others, the day couldn’t have been more perfect.
Newly engaged Tim Willingham and Catherine Peck, of South Carolina, were delighted with their holiday together.
“I’ve never been to Vegas. He’d been to Vegas,” she said, motioning at her fiancé with the diamond on her finger glittering as the fireworks boomed over Caesars Palace. “I’ve heard all my life about it and so far, it’s outstanding. Overwhelming.”
It’s way better than Reno, she said. It’s even up there with Monte Carlo in Monaco, where she’d been on a previous vacation, she said.
“If you’ve ever been to Disney, with the fireworks and the pageantry, it’s true what they say – Las Vegas is an adult’s Disneyworld. That’s true,” Peck said.
Earlier in the day, while fireworks were on the minds of many, a more pressing matter was keeping cool in heat that hit the triple digits.
At the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, tourists lined up early in the day to have a photo snapped with the iconic landmark. Every parking spot in a newly built parking lot was taken.
After walking the Strip all morning, the Hillborn family from Ontario, Canada, made a final stop at the sign before heading back to their hotel pool to escape the heat.
Not only did the weekend mark their first trip to Las Vegas, it also was the family’s first Fourth of July in the United States.
“We’ve never been so we came to check out the casinos, all the attractions and the fireworks, and of course, this weather,” Mike Hillborn said.
While some might avoid the Vegas heat during the summer months, Hillborn said the family came with two children to experience heat they don’t feel at home.
“We don’t get anything like this up there,” Hillborn said of the Ontario weather.
Canadians celebrated their independence with Canada Day on Wednesday but Hillborn said the day is much more subdued compared to what they’ve heard of America’s Independence Day celebrations.
“I’m sure it’s going to be way bigger than Canada Day,” Hillborn said. “You guys (Americans) are very patriotic, that’s for sure.”
For the Wiesner family from Ashland, Mo., Las Vegas was a pit stop on a cross-country road trip. They had driven from Missouri to California earlier in the week for a wedding and rolled into town for the holiday weekend.
The family, staying at Circus Circus, planned to watch some fireworks – then hit the road and return to the Midwest. How was the family keeping cool?
“It’s not that big a difference from Missouri, so I’m used to it,” Rick Wiesner said. “They’re not,” he said, pointing to his two children and his sister-in-law, “but I am.”
Generally on the Fourth the family spends about $500 on fireworks to set off at home – “big mortars,” Rick Weisner said – so they were looking forward to what Las Vegas had to offer.
Patricia and Jorge Ruiz, of Fullerton, Calif., were spending their first Fourth of July in Las Vegas with their children, Jorge III, 6, and Brianna, 4. In previous years they’d gone to Laughlin, but opted for Mandalay Bay this year.
The family wore matching red shirts with an American flag splashed across the chest.
“It’s not hard to stay cool with the air conditioning and the pools,” Jorge Ruiz said. “And there’s plenty of time at night to gamble.”